Claiming alleged persecution, 590 Israelis filed refugee claims in Canada in the first nine months of 1994, according to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.
The high number of claimants ranks Israel fifth on the list of countries from which self-described refugees are seeking to emigrate, according to the board’s quarterly statistics.
The only countries with higher number of claimants were Sri Lanka (2,406), Somalia (2,006), Iran (899) and India (738).
By contrast, there were just 129 applicants from Rwanda and 69 from Bosnia, according to the statistics.
Many of the claimants from Israel are previous emigrants from the former Soviet Union who claim that they were subject to religious persecution after arriving in Israel. Many of the claimants said the persecutions stemmed from the fact that they were married to non-Jews.
The issue has garnered widespread publicity in Israel, where officials express outrage at the notion that emigres who fled the former Soviet Union with Israeli assistance are now claiming persecution.
Amid reports that hundreds of Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union had been admitted to Canada as refugees based on these claims, Israeli officials have registered official protests with the Canadian government.
Meanwhile, the growing number of claimants from Israel has promoted one of Canada’s most prominent immigration attorneys to charge recently that these claimants are perpetrating a massive fraud on the Canadian government.
Each claimant has cost Canadian taxpayers between $50,000 and $100,000 (Canadian), said Mendel Green, a senior partner with the Toronto legal firm of Green and Spiegel.
He said that the majority of the claimants from Israel either abandon their cases or have their applications rejected.
To date this year, he said, 445 such cases have been rejected and 72 withdrawn, while 344 have been granted refugee status.
“The situation is despicable. Canadian immigration consultants have gone to Israel, distributed brochures in Russian on how to claim refugee status in Canada and get welfare,” Green said. “They’ve encouraged them to lie. There are many unscrupulous lawyers who have made a lot of money.”
Echoing the protests of Israeli government officials, Green described the Israelis’ claims of persecution as “factually ill-founded.”
According to Green, the claimants from Israel include Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Israeli natives who claim they had to flee because of their pacifist views or radical political leanings.
But the great majority of the rejected refugee applicants are Russian-speaking, said Green, who teaches immigration law at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
Besides clogging the already overloaded refugee board system with their meritless cases, Green charged, many of the Russian Israelis work in Canada’s underground economy while collecting welfare.
Restaurants and gas stations are among their favorite places of employment because they receive their salaries in cash, he said.
Green pointed to another common scam that he said takes place because refugee claimants are entitled to receive free socialized medical services and medicine.
The claimants, Green alleged, invent an illness requiring a specific drug that is in short supply in their former homeland. After visiting numerous doctors with the same complaint, he said, they send the medication they have received to Russia, where it is sold on the black market.
Suspicious of the increasing number of recent claims, Jewish community agencies like Jewish Immigrant Aid Services have stopped offering their services to the refugee claimants.
At the same time, Canadian immigration officials, in conjunction with the government, imposed a visa requirement in May 1993 on visitors with temporary Israeli travel documents, which is what emigres from the former Soviet Union carry.
By pre-screening visa applicants, officials hope to make it harder for would-be claimants to reach Canada.