NAFTA food policy led to Mexico visa order: NFU

The federal government’s new visa requirement for visitors from Mexico is a “perverse outcome” of food trade spawned by the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to the National Farmers Union.

The federal government on Monday announced visa requirements starting Tuesday for travellers coming to Canada from Mexico and the Czech Republic.

Refugee claims from Mexico have nearly tripled since 2005, reaching over 9,400 in 2008, making Mexico the No. 1 source country for claims and the source of 25 per cent of refugee claims in Canada, the government said in a release Monday.

However, the government said, out of the Mexican claims reviewed and finalized in 2008 by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, only 11 per cent were accepted.

“In addition to creating significant delays and spiraling new costs in our refugee program, the sheer volume of these claims is undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in the government’s release.

“All too often, people who really need Canada’s protection find themselves in a long line, waiting for months and sometimes years to have their claims heard.”

The NFU, however, urged Canadians to look to what it says is the “root cause” of the rising number of Mexican refugee claimants, citing a flood of cheap, subsidized U.S. corn and beans into Mexico since NAFTA was implemented in 1995.

“Lawless and dangerous”

Hit hard by low prices for their crops, many Mexican farm families have been forced to relocate to large cities or find work at border-town maquiladoras (factories using low-cost labour to make cheap goods for export to the U.S. and elsewhere), the NFU said.

Forced off the land into major urban areas, Mexico’s farmers find these cities to be “increasingly lawless and dangerous” due to rising organized crime spurred by poverty and desperation, the NFU said.

“Many Mexicans are now trying to escape. Some are coming here. We need to connect the dots. Many of the Mexicans coming to Canada are refugees from NAFTA,” the NFU’s Saskatoon-based international co-ordinator Martha Robbins said in the group’s release.

What’s ironic, Robbins said, is that “as we are forcing open Mexican borders to our products, we are closing our borders to a significant portion of the Mexican people.”

The NFU said it “strongly opposes” the policy requiring Mexican citizens to have visas to visit Canada.

In announcing its requirements for Czech visitors, the government said Monday that since its previous visa requirement was lifted on the Czech Republic in October 2007, almost 3,000 claims have been filed by Czech nationals, compared with “less than five” during 2006.

The Czech Republic is now second only to Mexico for refugee claims in Canada, the government said.

Furthermore, the government said, out of the claims from the Cezch Republic, over half are “abandoned or withdrawn before a final decision is made by the Immigration and Refugee Board, indicating that many claimants may not be genuine refugees.”

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