The Canadian Refugee Crisis: Money isn’t the (whole) answer

unacto11.jpgThe following post was written by Hala Aurangzeb, one of our UNAC-Vancouver board members.

September 21- During an emotional conference at Vancouver’s City Hall, dozens of refugees and advocate organizations convened to discuss the issue of a worryingly slow family reunification process. B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond attended the conference with a number of interested parties, including representatives of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, and members of the City of Vancouver Board.

The discussion, framed by advocate organizations as concerning Canada’s obligation as a signatory of the UN convention on the rights of the child, was really brought home by accounts of the distressed newcomers present. Former refugees related their difficult stories of separation, as in the case of Khadija Ahmed, who was forced to choose between her children when coming to Canada, only to stay apart from her new-born and husband for six years[1].

Although the Canadian Government has announced to contribute $25 million towards faster refugee application processing, advocates worry that this further conflates the separate issues of faster processing for all applicants, and hastening the applications of those whose families have already left for Canada without them. The difference, according to health officials at Bridge Community Health Clinic in Vancouver, is long term mental and physical health issues which compound on the trauma they have experienced, rather than alleviating it. According to one medical expert, the anxiety and stress from their concern for loved ones often takes on very physical symptoms which are difficult to treat.

The reason for their anxiety, according to Turpel-Lafond, is a “far too complex and burdensome” bureaucracy. According government statistics the average time for processing Family Class Sponsorship applications has increased from 16 months in 2007, to 28 months in 2012. Sponsorship of children has gone up from 14 to 18 months, while parents and grandparents have deviated from 43 months to 58[3].

According to Chris Friesen of Immigration Services Society of BC, the hurdle of bureaucratic congestion could be eased by prioritizing family reunification– a process that already passed the test-drive when Canada took a lead in aiding refugees during the Kosovo crisis.

Moreover, advocates argue that CIC’s restrictive designation of the terms “family” and “child” impose a western understanding of those terms which may be removed from the realities of incoming refugees. According to CIC, the one-year window which allows refugees to sponsor non-accompanying family members under the same application, “family” is qualified as either a spouse or common-law partner of the primary applicant; a dependent child of the applicant, or applicant’s partner; or, a dependent grandchild.  As evinced by the stories shared, the brunt of such ethnocentric definition is felt by teenage children, young adults, and grandparents who remain questionably affiliated under CIC’s provisions as “family,” “dependent” or “child.”

Some advocates present questioned whether the current definitions under the Canadian Immigrant and Refugee Protection Regulations can grasp family ties, as they are perceived, elsewhere. Especially in communities affected by war, where companionship emerges in unrecognizable forms, and anyone who is the care taker of a child can become family without legal recognition.