The Conservative government’s refugee system reforms have led to a significant decline in the number of asylum seekers showing up on Canada’s doorstep, figures show.

The most staggering change was evident in the plummeting numbers of refugee claimants from Hungary, a country that was once Canada’s top source of asylum seekers, according to data provided by senior government sources.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 19 for three consecutive years, hundreds of Hungarian nationals sought refugee status in Canada. The numbers began to rise after Canada lifted visa requirements in 2008.

In 2010, 415 refugee claims were made, followed by 374 in 2011 and 353 in 2012. (The total number of asylum claims for those years peaked at 4,453 in 2011).

But as of Feb. 19 this year, only seven people from Hungary have made refugee claims.

Overall, the weekly average for all asylum claims has dropped by 70 per cent from a combined five-year average between 2007 and 2012. 

Government sources say those figures show that Ottawa’s plan to weed out false refugee claims is working. And if the trend continues, the government could save $2 billion over the next five years in costs associated with investigating asylum claims.

Last December, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney unveiled a list of countries deemed to be “safe,” meaning they are believed to uphold the rule of law and human rights. Refugee claimants from those countries now get fast-tracked hearings in an effort to weed out people who are not believed to be “legitimate” asylum seekers.

Instead of dragging on for months, those hearings are now supposed to take place within 30 to 45 days.

Refugee seekers from those “safe” countries lose their right to certain appeals if their claims are denied. They also cannot apply for Canadian work permits while their cases are being processed.

But some immigration lawyers have raised concerns about the new rules. 

“Thirty days is not enough at all. Even sixty days is not enough,” Toronto-based lawyer Chantal Desloges said. “If you ask any lawyer in the country if they can run a full hearing with only four weeks of notice time, it’s ridiculous.”

Kenney has long touted a crackdown on “bogus” asylum seekers. Ottawa has suggested that some of them are connected to organized networks in their home countries. 

In one instance, more than half of passengers arriving to Toronto on a 2011 flight that originated in Eastern Europe asked for refugee status upon landing.

“When all of a sudden, you’re getting hundreds of claims each month from the same country and many of the claims are identical…any reasonable person will infer that these are in some respect organized and facilitated,” Kenney said in 2012.

But critics have accused Ottawa of discriminating against the Roma – an ethnic minority in Hungary who have overwhelmingly sought refuge in Canada.

Human rights groups say the Roma are constantly persecuted and segregated in Europe, and their refugee claims are legitimate.

With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian