Nigerians are now the largest nationals seeking refugee status in Canada.
According to data received from the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria had 12,138 pending applications as of December 2018.
The Canadian authorities, however, pointed out that two out of every three Nigerian applicants claim to be victims of homophobic attacks.
The Federal Government led by former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2014 signed the Same Sex (Prohibition) Act which outlawed gay marriage and prescribed a prison term of 14 years for persons found guilty of such.
According to the RPD, which is in charge of hearing and deciding claims for refugee protection made in Canada, Nigeria has overtaken crisis-ridden Haiti which was number one the previous year.
The total number of pending applications from across the world stood at 71,675 which implies that Nigeria represents about 17 per cent of total pending applications from amongst the over 170 countries.
Haiti comes a distant second with 6,811 pending applications while India has 5,175. Mexico has 3,525; Colombia, which ended a civil war barely three years ago, has 3,056 while China has 2,105.
Jawad Kassab, who led the refugee and immigration programme at Legal Aid Ontario in 2017, said the agency had identified an unusual pattern in sexual orientation claims filed by Nigerian refugee seekers.
Kassab told CBC News that he was concerned that if claims were fabricated, refugees with legitimate claims might have a harder time getting the help they need.
“It galls me because of the potential impact it could have on the refugee system and the Canadian public’s perception of refugee claimants and refugees in a very vulnerable time globally,” he said.
Kassab said Legal Aid Ontario, which covers the legal costs for most refugee claims heard in the province, became suspicious after a routine review of refugee applications showed that 60 to 70 per cent of about 600 Nigerian claims made in Ontario since April 2017 were based on persecution because of sexual orientation.
Kassab described that number as “high, relative to other countries.”
Kassab said Legal Aid feared some of the claims were either made up by individual claimants or that legal representatives coached them to do so.
The National Orientation Agency has therefore cautioned Nigerians against desperation while seeking asylum abroad, saying even though the body could not stop anyone from seeking better life somewhere, Nigerians should not do it by all means
The agency’s spokesperson, Mr Paul Ogenyi, spoke to our correspondent in a telephone interview on Friday.
He said, “Of course, as more experts are leaving the country, it would affect us in the future because to replace the professionals leaving this country would be difficult.”
On Nigerians claiming to be gay to seek asylum in Canada, Ogenyi said it was due to the law against homosexuality in Nigeria. “But desperate people should not use gay issue as a means of getting asylum,” he added.
The Presidency had yet to respond to Saturday PUNCH’s reaction to this issue as of the time of publishing this report.
The Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Garba Shehu, neither answered calls to his mobile phone nor did he respond to a text message sent to him on Friday