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An area of refugee law that often frustrates refugee claimants is the requirement that they show that there was no reasonable internal flight alternative in their country of origin.  Using a Mexican claimant, for example, the question that is often (somewhat ignorantly) asked is “why didn’t you go to Canucn?”

The issue is whether it would be possible for someone at risk of persecution to simply “get lost in the crowd.”  The availability of an internal flight alternative is especially relevant where the persecutor is a non-state actor, such as a gang.

Pursuant to the test that the Federal Court of Appeal articulated in Rasaratnam v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1992] 1 F.C. 706 (C.A.), there are two criteria that must be met before an internal flight alternative will be found to be reasonable.

The first is that that there is no serious risk of the claimant being persecuted in the part of the country where there is a flight alternative.

The second is that the situation in the part of the country identified as an internal flight alternative must be such that it is not unreasonable for the claimant to seek refuge there, given all of the circumstances.

The test to show that an internal flight alternative is unreasonableness is strict.  In Ranganathan v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2001] 2 FC 164, [2000] FCJ No 2118 (QL), the Federal Court held that held that:

It requires nothing less than the existence of conditions which would jeopardize the life and safety of a claimant in traveling or temporarily relocating to a safe area. In addition, it requires actual and concrete evidence of such conditions. The absence of relatives in a safe place, whether taken alone or in conjunction with other factors, can only amount to such condition if it meets that threshold, that is to say if it establishes that, as a result, a claimant’s life or safety would be jeopardized.

Federal Court jurisprudence indicates that factors pointing to an IFA being objectively unreasonable include:

  1. Being unable to prove clan membership when it is required to live in the IFA, never having lived there or having family there, not speaking the language, and having no prospects for residence or employment: Abubakar v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1993] FCJ No 887 (TD);
  2. The negative impact on any children of the claimant:  Sooriyakumaran v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1998] FCJ No 1402 (TD);
  3. The young age of the claimant:  Elmi v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1999] FCJ No 336 (TD);
  4. The unlikelihood of the claimant reaching the IFA without undue risk to his or her life:  Hashmat v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1997] FCJ No 598 (TD); and
  5. The inability of the claimant to legally remain in the area:  Kandiah v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1998] FCJ No 1269 (TD).

Justice Linden in Thirunavukkarasu v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1994] 1 FC 589 described the reasoning for why an internal flight alternative needs to be accessible as being:

An IFA cannot be speculative or theoretical only; it must be a realistic, attainable option. Essentially, this means that the alternative place of safety must be realistically accessible to the claimant. Any barriers to getting there should be reasonably surmountable. The claimant cannot be required to encounter great physical danger or to undergo undue hardship in travelling there or in staying there. For example, claimants should not be required to cross battle lines where fighting is going on at great risk to their lives in order to reach a place of safety.

Similarly, claimants should not be compelled to hide out in an isolated region of their country, like a cave in the mountains, or in a desert or a jungle, if those are the only areas of internal safety available.

As well, the Immigration and Refugee Board’s gender guidelines must be taken into consideration. These state:

In determining the reasonableness of a woman’s recourse to an internal flight alternative (IFA), decision-makers should consider the ability of women, because of their gender, to travel safely to the IFA and to stay there without facing undue hardship. In determining the reasonableness of an IFA, the decision-makers should take into account factors including religious, economic, and cultural factors, and consider whether and how these factors affect women in the IFA.

It is important to note, however, that an IFA can still be reasonable if any risks to the claimant are of a generalized nature. In Cardenas v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), Justice Zinn noted that:

I agree with the Respondent that the discussion of the RAD concerning the violent state of affairs in Acapulco and the concerns the Applicants have regarding their employment and risks to the children are all generalized risks. All things being equal, it is not surprising that the Applicants would choose not to relate to Acapulco; however, generalized risk does not amount to persecution and the concerns these Applicants raise do not establish that it is not an IFA for them.