Canada says it will require migrants to be cleared by its intelligence agencies to be allowed in, after more than 1,000 North Koreans arrived in recent months amid the death of their leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother.
The new rules apply to North Koreans already in Canada and those who arrive starting in January, according to Canadian Press, which cited federal officials.
Some of the latest arrivals have been awaiting their visas and travel documents for months, according to an analysis by New Democrat lawmakers.
The two Korean-Canadian groups, which are focused on helping refugees from North Korea, had expressed concern about the reported delays in processing the petitions of North Koreans arriving in Canada, the Times of Vancouver reported.
Vancouver lawyer Andre Bibeau told the paper: “To be honest, the fact they’re requesting security clearance for North Koreans on arrival is a big surprise to us.”
He said it was unknown how the verification would be done, nor whether it would be done at the airport or in border crossings. Bibeau said he hoped the process would take one to two months and that the government would issue a call for bids for a “speciality service provider”.
The newspaper reports that an official of the International Protection Division of the Canada Border Services Agency said: “This is not a mandate new initiative. The vetting is well established at the port of entry, and this is an extension of that process.”
A spokesperson for the Public Safety ministry said the changes were not required before other countries, including China and the US, similarly required their nationals to be vetted.
“The federal government had previously been following the guidance for the issuance of passports of all foreign nationals following the adoption of enhanced risk assessments, which was specifically for the arrival of foreign nationals within Canada,” their statement said.
“The federal government is legislatively directed to ensure that Canada is well-equipped to receive foreign nationals who have been fingerprinted, subject to a thorough background screening process, when returning to Canada from international departure.”
The move to require a security check before admitting a North Korean sparked criticism from Amnesty International Canada, which said the government’s efforts to vet those applying for protection should be suspended until the proper measures are in place.
“This government seems to be introducing policies without first determining the security concerns they could pose,” said Maggie Donald, Canada’s director.
A government spokeswoman said North Korean nationals already in Canada could, with a court order, be denied entry. The federal government said this was done “as a safety and security measure” to stop the unlawful entry of North Koreans.
Government officials told the federal public safety and border services ministers that bringing in another security check would allow the Canada Border Services Agency to focus its resources on those already in Canada.