By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The deaths of two migrants while in detention in Canada prompted calls on Thursday for policing of border authorities in the nation that has opened its doors to thousands of Syrian refugees.
The back-to-back deaths of the two men highlight the need for a supervisory body to oversee the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), several human rights groups said.
Chilean Francisco Astorga, 39, and Melkioro Gahungu, 64, of Burundi, were found dead less than a week apart while in the custody of Canadian immigration authorities in early March, according to several news reports.
CBSA has confirmed the deaths of two detainees but not their names.
The deaths followed reports of a 16-year-old Syrian asylum seeker held in solitary confinement for three weeks.
Together, the incidents reignite "longstanding concerns about the lack of independent oversight for CBSA," Loly Rico, president of the Montreal-based Canadian Council for Refugees, told the media during a telephone news conference.
"It is beyond unconscionable now that there continues to be no independent oversight of Canada's immigration detention facilities," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, during the same call.
"The growing number of deaths in Canadian immigration custody makes it clear that there is a terrible human cost," he said.
Fourteen people have died in immigration detention in Canada since 2000, according to the End Immigration Detention Network, an advocacy group.
Contacted for reaction, a CBSA spokeswoman did not provide any comment.
A CBSA spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it cannot release the names of detainees who died in custody under the nation's privacy act and other laws.
CBSA can arrest and detain foreign nationals without warrants if it deems they pose a threat to public safety, are a flight risk or if their identity cannot be proven, according to its website.
Canada has garnered international attention for the decision under its new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accept more than 25,000 Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland.
Last year, more than 4,000 migrants were detained by Canada's immigration services, according to government data compiled by the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The number only tallies people who have been released after a legal review and not those released without such a review or those still in detention, the council said.
Of all immigrant detainees in Canada, nearly a third in 2013 were held in facilities intended for criminals, a study by the University of Toronto estimated.
The human rights advocates said a CBSA oversight mechanism should be independent from political interference, external to the agency and equipped with adequate legal power.
CBSA is the only major law enforcement agency in Canada without any independent accountability mechanism, they said.
Earlier in March, Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office was reported as saying the government was looking into an "appropriate review mechanism" for the agency.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)