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.

Rohingya Migrants Stranded in the Andaman Sea

unacto1The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our two new UNAC-Vancouver website writers. 

Thousands of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh are currently stranded on ships in the Andaman Sea seeking shore to land on. The future of these refugees remains unsolved as countries in the region are refusing to accept additional migrants and are ordering their navies to turn them away. This has resulted in ships floating back and forth for months between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia hoping to be allowed access to shore. The conditions on the boats are unsanitary and crowded. Further, the migrants, who are suffering from dehydration and starvation, are fighting over limited supplies.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 9.56.15 PMThe stranded migrants are largely made up of ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, but are also joined by impoverished Bangladeshis seeking a better life elsewhere. According to the UN refugee agency, over 120 000 Muslim Rohingyas have fled Myanmar over the past three years, due to the strong persecution they face in the country.[1] The Muslim group suffers extreme state sanctioned discrimination from a Buddhist majority and is subject to violent attacks by Buddhist extremists. The Rohingya minority have long suffered oppression by the government, which has recently intensified with the reforms President Thein Sein introduced in 2011.[2] They are fleeing because they are denied basic services, are prohibited from possessing land rights and their movements are restricted. They have also recently had their “temporary registration certificates” revoked, preventing them the right to vote in upcoming elections.[3] These restrictions, along with the strong anti-Muslim sentiment they face, makes them feel unwelcome in Myanmar and has led the UN to deem the Rohingya one of the most persecuted groups in the world.[4] The ethnic Rohingya Muslims are now part of a humanitarian crisis where the do not feel secure in their own country but cannot find an alternative host to accept them.

Non-governmental organizations claim the neighbouring countries have a moral imperative to feed and supply refugees since they are stranded in their waters.[5] Navy ships from these countries are intercepting the boats to provide the migrants with food and water and then sending them away, prohibiting them from landing on their shores. Many are fearful that without a coast to land on the migrants will perish at sea, resulting in immense pressure on these countries to find a solution. boatloads-of-rohingya-and-bangladeshi-migrants.html

Malaysian, Bangladeshi, Thai and Indonesian foreign ministers are scheduled to meet to meet in June to discuss the issue. All of the countries are opposed to accepting the migrants because they fear it would open the floodgates for additional migrants. Malaysia and Bangladesh have been the main recipients of ethnic Rohingya refugees in the past but claim they must now focus on their own interests, especially since Bangladesh already suffers high levels of unemployment.[6] Malaysia is the coveted destination for the migrants because of its predominantly Muslim population and its need for unskilled labour. The Muslim majority in Indonesia makes it another desired destination, however the government has warned they will expel any migrants who make it ashore.[7] Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments in the region to remember their obligation to open their ports to abandoned migrants at sea and “to ensure that the prohibition on refoulement is maintained”.[8]

The countries are aware of their responsibilities but lament complying while the leaders of Myanmar refuse to accept blame for the migrant situation or engage in talks.

While short-term humanitarian action must come from the countries in the region, pressure must also be exerted on the government of Myanmar to address the plight of the ethnic minority and mitigate their reasons for fleeing.

Works Cited

“600 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar Arrive in Indonesia.” CBC News 10 May 2015, World sec. Web. 3 May 2015. <;.

Heed, Jonathon. “The Unending Plight of Burma’s Unwanted Rohingyas.” BBC 1 July 2013, Asia sec. Web. 6 May 2015. <;. “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?” BBC News 18 May 2015, Asia sec. Web. 11 May 2015. <;.

[1] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?,” BBC News, 11 May 2015,

[2] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jonathon Heed, “The Unending Plight of Burma’s Unwanted Rohingyas,” BBC News 1 July 2013,

[5] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[6] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.