Two-Pronged Approach to Internal Flight Alternative (IFA).

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IFA in Refugee Claims and PRRA

Arben, an artist from Kosovo, arrives in Canada nervously to seek asylum. He fled threats in his hometown but wonders if Internal Flight Alternative (IFA) could pose a hurdle. Meanwhile, he must also consider the implications of a refugee claim or a following Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRAA) application. As Arben navigates these complexities, he holds onto hope that his new life in Canada remains within reach. Through his journey, we explore the nuanced criteria and critical importance of IFA and PRRA in refugee claims.

Definition of IFA

In Thirunavukkarasu v. Canada (1993 CanLII 3011 (FCA), [1994] 1 FC 589), the concept of Internal Flight Alternative (IFA) is critically examined. IFA refers to a situation where, although a person may face persecution in one part of their country, other regions may offer safety. This notion is integral to the definition of a Convention refugee, suggesting that if individuals can safely relocate within their own country, they may not qualify as unable or unwilling to return home.

Moreover, the importance of IFA in refugee claims is profound. It places the burden on claimants to demonstrate, with reasonable probability, that persecution exists throughout their country, not just in their immediate area. Consequently, before seeking asylum abroad, it is crucial to assess whether it is objectively reasonable for claimants to find refuge elsewhere within their homeland. This assessment is pivotal to determining a person’s status as a Convention refugee under Canadian and international law.

Understanding the Two-Pronged Test for Internal Flight Alternative (IFA)

The two-pronged test is pivotal in assessing refugee claims in Canada, specifically when considering the Internal Flight Alternative (IFA). This test is designed to determine whether it is safe and reasonable for a claimant to relocate to another part of their home country instead of seeking refugee status abroad. Each prong of the test addresses a different aspect of this assessment:

  1. Safety from Persecution: Ensures that the claimant would not face a serious possibility of persecution in the proposed alternative area. This includes examining specific threats the claimant faces and the general safety conditions in that area.
  2. Reasonableness of Relocation: Assesses whether it is practically and economically feasible for the claimant to move to and live in the proposed safe area. This evaluation considers the claimant’s circumstances, the accessibility and stability of the area, and the overall living conditions to ensure no undue hardship would result from the relocation.

The successful application of both prongs is essential for determining an IFA. If a claimant can neither safely nor reasonably relocate within their own country, they may retain their eligibility for refugee protection in Canada. This rigorous approach ensures a fair and thorough assessment of each refugee claim, respecting the delicate balance between national immigration controls and protecting those genuinely in need. The courts introduced this test in two major decisions, namely:

  • Rasaratnam v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration) (C.A.), 1991 CanLII 13517 (FCA), [1992] 1 FC 706
  • Thirunavukkarasu v. Canada ( Minister of Employment and Immigration ) ( C.A. ), 1993 CanLII 3011 (FCA), [1994] 1 FC 589

However, you may trace this test in the latest decisions. For example, consider the following:

  • Rahman v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2024 FC 582 (CanLII) at para. 13 & 14

While this test is primarily for refugee hearings, IRCC also uses it for PRRA applications.

Detailed Analysis of the First Prong: Fear of Persecution in IFA

The first prong of the IFA assessment involves evaluating whether there is a serious possibility of persecution in the potential IFA location. This assessment mirrors the considerations made regarding the claimant’s home area. It also includes several specific considerations unique to the IFA context:

Objective Basis for Fear

The Refugee Protection Division (RPD) evaluates whether a real fear of persecution exists in the IFA and considers the claimant’s circumstances beyond general conditions.

Consideration of Similarly Situated Individuals

The RPD assesses the safety of the IFA for individuals who share risks and backgrounds similar to those of the claimant.

Family Member Conditions

The RPD examines the safety of family members in the IFA, which can indicate the area’s overall suitability for the claimant.

Nature and Agents of Persecution

This analysis considers who perpetuates the persecution and determines if it is localized or widespread. However, if the agent of persecution is the government, it does not automatically assist the claimant. They must show the agent truly influences the new IFA location.

Visibility and Pursuit

The likelihood that agents of persecution can locate the claimant in the IFA is critically assessed. For example, if a person has to remain in hiding or hide their sexual orientation, IFA is not an option.

Cumulative Harassment

The RPD may need to consider if past persecution in non-IFA areas should influence the current IFA assessment.

Urban Safety Assumptions

Simply being a large urban area does not automatically make a location a safe IFA, nor does geographical distance alone. Consequently, an IFA could be very close to the original location of persecution.

The Second Prong – Assessing the Reasonableness of an IFA

When evaluating whether an IFA is a viable option for a refugee claimant, the reasonableness of relocating to another part of their home country plays a critical role. This assessment, known as the second prong of the IFA test, is not just about the availability of another location but whether it is unduly harsh for the claimant to move there given their specific circumstances. This objective evaluation involves multiple factors, including the safety, accessibility, and living conditions of the proposed IFA, ensuring that the relocation does not expose the claimant to undue hardship or risk. The following subsections delve into each of these factors, outlining the comprehensive criteria used to uphold the rigorous standards of refugee protection.

Objective Assessment

The test determines if it’s unduly harsh for the claimant to relocate within their country before seeking refuge abroad. It’s a stringent, objective standard.

Realistic and Attainable Options

An IFA must be a practical, achievable option. Relocation should not involve significant risks or hardships for claimants.

Distinction from Humanitarian Considerations

Assessments of IFA reasonableness should not confuse better conditions in Canada with the unreasonableness of the IFA. Therefore, because Canada is a better place, IFA does not disqualify.

Relevance of Claimant’s Specific Circumstances

The claimant’s situation and the conditions of the potential IFA are pivotal. General information isn’t sufficient. The concept of a non-comparative approach to refugee claims also applies to IFA.

Psychological Considerations

Psychological evidence is crucial and cannot be overlooked when determining the reasonableness of an IFA. Both RPD and IRCC officers (PRRA applications) must consider this matter.

Regional Conditions

The safety and stability of the government and infrastructure in the IFA are key factors. However, instability alone does not define unreasonableness.

Family Presence

The presence or absence of family in the IFA affects its reasonableness, especially for minors. Lack of family must endanger the claimant’s safety to be a valid concern.

Infrastructure and Economy

While significant, deteriorating infrastructure or the economy in the IFA must pose actual risks to be considered unreasonable.

Human Rights Considerations

An IFA is not reasonable if residing there necessitates ongoing human rights violations.

Accessibility of the IFA

The IFA must be safe and reasonably accessible. Claimants shouldn’t have to cross active conflict zones to reach safety.

Gender-Based Considerations

For gender-based claims, the assessment must align with the Gender Guidelines, ensuring sensitive handling.

Irrelevance of Settlement in Canada

The extent of a claimant’s settlement in Canada does not influence the reasonableness of relocating to an IFA. The presence of relatives in Canada is also irrelevant to the assessment. Simply put, do not confuse refugee claims with humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) applications.

External Flight Alternative in Canadian Refugee Law

An External Flight Alternative (EFA) concept differs from the Internal Flight Alternative (IFA). EFA is generally not recognized or required under Canadian refugee law. While IFA considers the possibility of relocation within a claimant’s own country, EFA would involve relocating to a different country. Canadian jurisprudence generally does not obligate claimants to explore such alternatives.

Lack of Requirement in Canadian Refugee Law

Canadian refugee determinations do not require claimants to demonstrate the inability to find safety in any other country where they may have rights to reside. The emphasis remains on whether claimants can safely and reasonably relocate within their nation.

Context within the European Union

The case of Mortocian v. Canada indirectly addressed the concept of EFA within the European Union’s context, where there is significant mobility among member states. However, the court concluded that mobility within the EU does not equate to a viable IFA, emphasizing that the EU comprises distinct nations, not a single country where an EFA would be applicable based on the right to work.

Canadian courts have consistently clarified that claimants are not required to exhaust possible safe havens in other countries. This principle ensures that the focus of refugee protection remains within the context of safety and reasonableness of relocation within the claimant’s country of origin.

This revised section highlights the specific legal stance on EFAs in Canadian refugee law, underscoring its non-applicability in refugee status assessments and detailing the judicial decisions that have shaped this interpretation.

IFA Considerations in PRRA Applications

A Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) is a procedure in Canadian immigration law that allows individuals facing removal from Canada to apply for protection. This assessment is available to individuals who claim that returning to their home country or country of former residence would put them at risk of persecution, torture, or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. The PRRA process evaluates these risks before the enforcement of a removal order.

The Federal Court’s decision in Abbas v. Canada (2019 FC 412) provides crucial insights into applying the Internal Flight Alternative (IFA) to PRRA applications. This case highlights the specific challenges and considerations when assessing IFA within PRRA procedures. Needless to say, the two-pronged test applies to PRRA applications as well.

Objective Analysis Requirement

The decision underscores the necessity for an objective analysis in determining the availability of an IFA for PRRA applicants. In PRRA applications, like refugee determinations, the decision-makers must assess whether it is reasonable and safe for the claimant to relocate within their country of origin. However, the PRRA context often revisits this analysis after initial refugee claim determinations, sometimes under changed country conditions or personal circumstances of the claimant.

Evidence and Personal Circumstances

The court in Abbas emphasized that the evidence presented in PRRA applications must directly relate to the claimant’s specific circumstances and the conditions in the proposed IFA region. It criticized the decision under review for not sufficiently considering how the claimant’s personal situation—such as family connections, past persecution experiences, and visibility within the proposed safe area—might impact the reasonableness of an IFA.

Reasonableness and Safety

The judgment highlighted that simply identifying a theoretically safe area within a country does not automatically render it a reasonable IFA. Factors such as accessibility to the area, social and economic integration possibilities, and the absence of a risk of persecution must be comprehensively analyzed. The court found that the PRRA officer had failed to conduct a detailed analysis of whether it was unduly harsh for Mr. Abbas to relocate, especially considering his history and the threats he had received.

This case illustrates the layered complexity of applying the IFA concept in PRRA applications, where the stakes are high, and the outcome can significantly affect the applicant’s life. It serves as a reminder of the stringent standards required in such determinations and the need for thorough, individualized assessments based on credible and detailed evidence.

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Al ParsaiAl Parsai, LLM, MA, RCIC-IRB
Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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