Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Deborah Anker and students in the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic celebrated a victory this week when the Federal Court of Canada struck down an agreement that allowed Canada to send back asylum seekers crossing into its territory from the United States. A report authored by HLS students and expert testimony by Anker informed the Court’s decision.

“Refugees and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable populations and too frequently suffer systematic disregard for their most basic human rights,” Anker said. “The decision in this case is an important reaffirmation of the norms and obligations underlying the international Refugee and Torture Conventions by which the United States and other countries have agreed to be bound.”

In a landmark decision, the Court agreed with HLS and other experts, finding that asylum seekers applying in the United States face an unacceptable risk of deportation. As a result, the Court ruled against the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was implemented by both the U.S. and Canada three years ago this month.

The policy forces refugee claimants to seek protection in the first country they reach – either the U.S. or Canada. Since the policy’s implementation in 2004, Canada accepts few asylum-seekers who have come through the U.S.

Clinical students Efrat Arbel LL.M. ’07, an S.J.D. candidate, Kristin Hicks ’08, and Seth Kipp ’08 have been involved in researching and representing the lead plaintiff in the case, who was initially denied asylum in the U.S. and who could not enter Canada because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. Hicks and Kipp are now representing the plaintiff in a re-opened U.S. asylum claim.