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.

Renate Shearer Human Rights Award to be presented to Indira Prahst Dec 11th

unacto1The United Nations Association in Canada, Vancouver Branch and The B.C. Human Rights Coalition  cordially invite you to a Celebration to Commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the   UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
JJ’s Restaurant- Vancouver Community College (3rd Floor)

250 West Pender Street – Vancouver, BC V6B 1S9 5:30 – 8:00 pm
Admission by donations

The 25th Anniversary presentation of the Renate Shearer Award will be made to:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 8.00.27 PMIndira Prahst

In recognition of her exemplary commitment as an advocate, activist and educator on challenges related to intercultural and inter generational issues in the South Asian community of British Columbia

Hors d’ oeuvres, no-host bar and live music provided. Accessible facility, presentations begins at 6:15pm.

For additional information please call 604.689.8474

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 7.57.17 PMEach year, the Renate Shearer Memorial Award is presented to someone who has made an outstanding contribution in the filed of human rights. This award is a memorial to the life and work of Renate Shearer who was a champion of equality and dignity for all.
Link to pdf invite: Invite2013

Without peace there can be no development

unacto1The end of May saw the long-anticipated arrival of the UN’s high level report[1] into life post the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). For this important project, Ban Ki-Moon enlisted ‘eminent persons’, the likes of Yudhoyono of Indonesia, Sirleaf of Liberia and Cameron of the UK. Their task was to pool their collective energy and foresight to provide us with a blueprint for where we should aim to be by 2030.

‘Peace’, and all that goes with that most powerful of goals, has been placed in its rightful position as a cornerstone of the agenda for developing our global society. The report vociferously backed the concepts of peace-building, in order to afford the “fundamental human entitlements” of freedom from conflict and access to justice and legitimate governance. One of the shortfalls of the MDG’s, according to Graça Machel, who was involved in drafting the report, was they “failed to address the way conflict and insecurity undermine efforts to improve health, education and prosperity”. This was proven by Machel’s revelation that “no conflict-affected low-income country has achieved a single MDG”[2].

The timing of this positive support for peace as a key player in the agenda, as opposed to a utopian ideal, could not have been better. Outrageous crimes against humanity, most alarmingly against women and children, being carried out by both sides in Syria including now the use of chemical weapons, should be alerting the global community that the UN’s mandate to promote international peace and security needs to be strengthened at every conceivable level.

un_implementationEconomic growth is and should be a key objective of the international community and a driver of development but it will not solve many of the issues facing our society today. Of course, livelihoods improve as economies grow, but so many areas of our society are fundamentally broken, we need to stop expanding for growths’ sake and get serious about growing sustainably and equitably as one community. We must, over the next 15 years, focus our efforts on peace building, on open dialogue and frank discussions about human security. We must concentrate on ethnic minorities, food security, corruption, proliferation, energy resources, trafficking, to name a few of the varied and complex issues which need our complete attention.

The report although it has faults, is a strong start. The authors call for “a fundamental shift”. They want to “recognize peace and good governance as a core element of wellbeing, not an optional extra”.  Today, it is a folder full of targets and ideas with the real work yet to start. Implementation and continued enthusiasm that there is a better way of dealing with our differences, will be the real test. We need to merge our goals to strive for peaceful development. There will never be a time when our ideals and cultures are the same, heaven forbid that would ever be the case. This however, does not rid us of the responsibility to ensure that every human being, at the very least, lives in safety. To finish with a line from the report,

Development is impossible without peace, just as peace is impossible without development.

A Letter from Argentina

Patsy George spent Human Rights Day in Argentina. The following letter describes Patsy’s  experience and what she learned there.

Patsy in Argentina

Thanks to my dear friend and host, Nora Patrich, a courageous and committed  Human Rights Activist now living in Argentina, I recently found myself in the middle of over 250 thousand people carrying banners, shouting slogans, dancing to the beat of hundreds of  drums lined up along more than 10 streets  leading to the Plaza De Mayo in the centre of Buenos Aires. The spectacular show of  commitment to democracy and human rights in a land which has known brutality and violations in itself was a sign of hope and human triumph on UN International Human Rights Day 2012.

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The Age of Occupy

Patsy George addressed an enthusiastic audience of students, faculty and community members, young and old, at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) on February 20th, 2012, the United Nations Day of Social Justice.

 Those who have heard Patsy speak know that she is both riveting and engaging; each of her ideas pulls the audience along to the next.  The Director of Social Work at UFV called her a “wonderful speaker” who made the audience “think, a lot”.

 And it’s no wonder. Patsy moves in her speech from her 20-something years being exposed to the era’s bitter realities, to the Occupy Movement originating in New York, to decrying economic development at the expense of social justice, to the conditions of the indigenous peoples of Canada and beyond. Continue reading