Canada committed to 40,000 Afghan refugees. 3,500 have made it. A piece of paper stands in the way

Of note:

In August, Naik Arbabzada was thrilled when she managed to quickly put together a private group of acquaintances to sponsor her elder sister’s family to Canada from Tajikistan, where the Afghans have sought refuge.

The Edmonton group quickly raised $60,000 in cash, with one person donating $8,000 worth of dental services for her sister, brother-in-law and six children.

But then they hit a snag because the family has not been able to secure the so-called “refugee status determination” paper, a document they need from the Tajikistan government to be recognized as refugees in need of resettlement.

Without that piece of paper, Arbabzada, a medical student at the University of Alberta, said her sponsorship group can’t even put in an application.

“We are asking the federal government to treat the Afghan refugee crisis similar to the Syrian refugee crisis by waiving the requirement of the RSD, so it doesn’t hinder an applicant’s ability to put a sponsorship application forward,” said Arbabzada, 30, who resettled in Canada with her parents 20 years ago. 

(Her two older sisters were left behind in Afghanistan because they were married and couldn’t come along as dependants. One is still stuck in Kabul with her family.)

Canada has committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees through its special immigration measures and humanitarian resettlement program after the Taliban took over Kabul and returned to power in August. So far only 3,500 have made it here.

Ottawa has set a target to usher in a total of 59,500 refugees in 2021 but so far only 44,300 have been admitted, according to data confirmed by the immigration department.

The goal for this year’s intake of government-assisted refugees was 12,500, and 22,500 for those privately sponsored by churches and community groups such as Arbabzada’s family. As of Oct. 31, only 7,800 and 4,500 were admitted respectively. The rest of the 44,300 admitted so far were refugees who entered Canada and were then granted asylum.

Officials said Canada’s ability to process immigration applications has been greatly hindered since the onset of COVID-19 amid office lockdowns and travel restrictions here and abroad.

This week, Ottawa confirmed it has reopened the land border to irregular migrants from the U.S., giving them access to seek asylum in Canada, which had been sending these would-be refugees back south of the border since March 2020.

“As the public health situation improves and the border reopens, Canada has removed the temporary public health measures restricting the entry of asylum claimants and the agreement with the U.S. has come to an end,” said Alex Cohen, press secretary of Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

“Canada remains committed to upholding our fair and compassionate refugee protection system, fulfilling our domestic and international legal obligations and protecting the health and safety of Canadians and those who wish to come here.”

While it’s good news that those travel restrictions have relaxed, Arbabzada said Fraser must also remove the red tape hindering ready Canadians from bringing in Afghans in crisis.

She said her sister’s family had no plan to move to Canada until June, when they were forced into hiding and had to flee the country after her brother-in-law was threaten by the Taliban because he was a contractor providing office supplies, furniture and non-perishable food items to foreign companies in Kabul.

However, since he didn’t work for the Canadian government, the family didn’t qualify for Ottawa’s special measures to resettle here, leaving private sponsorship the only option.

“It’s a shame that Canada is unable to meet its annual refugee target when you have individuals like my sister who are going to be very well supported and are waiting to start their lives in Canada,” said Arbabzada.

Members of her sponsorship group have reached out to the immigration department, urging the government to waive the refugee card requirement for Afghans.

In an email, a senior immigration official said removing the requirement, even temporarily, would result in a greater number of applications, which affects processing times and the timely resettlement of all privately sponsored refugees.

“There is a continuing need to manage intake of these applications in order to achieve acceptable processing times,” said the letter.

The official’s response upsets Tema Frank, a member of Arbabzada’s sponsorship group.

“The government is speaking out of both sides of their mouth,” said the Edmonton writer. 

“They’re trying to claim the glory for saying we’ll support all these Afghans. And yet when you’ve got Canadians who are ready to support them and make it happen, they’re putting this artificial blockade in the way.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/11/25/this-afghan-canadian-rallied-a-group-to-sponsor-her-sister-to-come-to-canada-a-piece-of-paper-stands-in-the-way.html?li_source=LI&li_medium=thestar_canada

À quoi peut-on s’attendre au chemin Roxham? 

Quebec advocate perspective. Will be interesting to see how fast and how far numbers climb:

Entre 2017 et 2019, 95 % des personnes ayant présenté une demande d’asile à la frontière terrestre canadienne l’ont fait au Québec, et pratiquement toutes au chemin Roxham, où l’on ne trouve aucun poste frontalier officiel. Près de 18 mois après l’avoir interdit en raison de la pandémie, le gouvernement fédéral permet, depuis dimanche dernier, aux personnes qui traversent la frontière entre les postes frontaliers de déposer une demande d’asile. À quoi peut-on s’attendre à la suite de cette réouverture ?

Pour répondre à cette question, il faut retourner aux années prépandémie. La transformation du chemin Roxham en point névralgique de cette frontière n’est pas une coïncidence : elle découle de plusieurs décennies de politiques migratoires qui visent à empêcher l’arrivée spontanée de demandeurs d’asile. Répondant à une anxiété liée au fonctionnement du système fédéral d’asile dans les années 1990, ces politiques ont pris une tournure antiterroriste à la suite des attentats du 11 septembre 2001. Cette année-là, le Canada et les États-Unis se sont mis d’accord sur la Déclaration pour une frontière intelligente, dont fait partie l’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs (ETPS). Mise en place en 2004, l’ETPS permet de renvoyer la majorité des demandeurs d’asile qui se présentent à la frontière canado-américaine vers les États-Unis.

Cette entente est à l’origine de ce que l’on a appelé la « crise migratoire » du chemin Roxham. En effet, parmi les exceptions qu’elle prévoit, l’ETPS ne s’applique pas aux personnes qui traversent la frontière à un endroit autre qu’un point d’entrée. En raison de sa situation géographique et à la faveur de la conjoncture politique, le chemin Roxham s’est imposé en tant que principal point d’entrée non officiel au Canada. Si les premières arrivées se sont déroulées de manière chaotique, les autorités ont par la suite mis en place certains dispositifs permettant d’accueillir ces personnes de façon ordonnée. Néanmoins, cet arrangement temporaire a permis aux autorités canadiennes d’exercer une surveillance sur les arrivées irrégulières, de garder un certain contrôle sur ces personnes et, ultimement, d’examiner leurs demandes de façon à respecter les droits des demandeurs d’asile ainsi que la législation canadienne.

Durant les premières semaines de la pandémie, le Canada a presque entièrement fermé sa frontière terrestre aux demandeurs d’asile. Alors que le gouvernement a par la suite rétabli les quelques exceptions à l’ETPS, les personnes se présentant entre les points d’entrée officiels ne pouvaient toujours pas déposer leur demande, étant renvoyées aux États-Unis dans l’attente du moment où les autorités leur permettraient de venir le faire. Bien que l’Agence des services frontaliers du Canada ait commencé à contacter ces personnes en août dernier, cette fermeture fait en sorte que de nouveaux chemins plus reculés sont maintenant empruntés. Du côté américain, des organismes d’aide aux réfugiés déplorent les conditions difficiles dans lesquelles se retrouvent les personnes qui attendent de pouvoir déposer leur demande.

La levée de cette exception annoncée dimanche aura des conséquences au chemin Roxham et ailleurs le long de la frontière terrestre. Il s’agit d’un bon moment pour considérer l’abrogation de l’ETPS et ainsi permettre aux demandeurs d’asile de se présenter directement aux postes frontaliers. Sinon, les images de 2017 risquent de revenir à la une de nos journaux : des familles entières qui se présentent de façon irrégulière au chemin Roxham, leurs valises à la main, puisque cela constitue leur unique option pour demander le statut de réfugié au Canada. Ou, pire encore, des demandeurs d’asile qui, comme ce fut le cas en 2017, périssent dans les régions rurales enneigées des Prairies à la recherche d’un passage entre deux postes frontaliers. Ce jeu du chat et de la souris entre les autorités et les demandeurs d’asile ne sert finalement personne.

Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/649125/demandeurs-d-asile-a-quoi-peut-on-s-attendre-au-chemin-roxham?utm_source=infolettre-2021-11-23&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=infolettre-quotidienne

Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

Good example of “weaponization” of refugees:

The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

The crisis began in late August, when growing groups of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, began massing at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, shepherded there by Belarus. That movement has now become much larger, with at least 4,000 or more men, women and children trapped in the freezing cold, without proper shelter or toilets, between Belarus and its neighbors.

Both Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency and fortified their borders, while Belarusian forces have in some cases aided the migrants in breaking through. The border regions have been shut to journalists and aid workers, but upsetting videos and pictures of the migrants facing barbed wire have been distributed, often by Belarus itself.

On Wednesday, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called Mr. Lukashenko’s tactics a “cynical power play” and said that blackmail must not be allowed to succeed. In Washington the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met President Biden and emerged to say that what was transpiring on the Belarus border is “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.”

Source: Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

USA: The Rate of Successful Asylum Cases Shot Up This Year. But That’s Probably Not Due to Biden

Of note:

There’s been a significant uptick in the rate at which immigrants have been granted asylum since President Joe Biden took office, new research shows. But that likely has nothing to do with the new President’s policies.

Asylum case success rates jumped from 29% to 37% between Fiscal year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021, during which Biden took office, according to a new report published Wednesday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data and research organization at Syracuse University. Looking only at the period Biden has been in office, the success rate has been 40% — and as high as 47% in September.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

“The obvious inference is, oh, well this is because of Biden,” says Austin Kocher, assistant professor and researcher at TRAC. But, he notes, the Biden Administration has made no major policy changes that would influence how immigration judges rule in asylum cases.

Instead, Kocher says, the higher rate of asylum grants may be due to a confluence of factors. For example, more asylum seekers this past year have had legal representation — and, historically, having a lawyer significantly increases the odds of winning asylum. (The reason for the uptick in legal representation is unclear. One possibility, the researchers say, is that attorneys representing clients with particularly strong cases may have simply succeeded in pushing their cases to the front of the line.)

Another factor may be the nationality of the people whose cases were heard. For example, Chinese applicants have more frequently won asylum cases in the past, while Haitian or Central American nationals have had lower success rates. “The country that people are from goes a long way in determining who gets asylum,” Kocher says. Geopolitics and U.S. foreign policy goals have historically played a big role in shaping asylum decisions.

The absolute number of people being granted asylum remains low, largely because courts have yet to resume their pre-pandemic decision rates after COVID-19 shut down some court activity. “The immigration courts have absolutely not recovered at all, not even a fraction really,” Kocher says. “We still have only had barely more than than 2,000 cases completed a month even right up until the end of September [2021].”

Immigrants Waiting Years for a Decision

Immigration courts are roughly 1.5 million cases behind schedule, which means thousands of people have been waiting for years for their asylum requests to be decided by a judge.

A partial shut down of immigration courts beginning in March 2020 as COVID-19 spread across the U.S. exacerbated this backlog. Before COVID-19, immigration judges were deciding approximately 10,000 asylum cases per month, according to TRAC. That number dropped after the pandemic started. In April of 2020, judges were deciding fewer than 2,000 asylum cases per month.

In Fiscal Year 2021, which ended in September, just over 23,800 asylum cases were decided in court. That’s down from 60,000 cases that were decided in Fiscal Year 2020. Roughly 8,350 people won their asylum claim in FY21, about half the number of people who won their claims in FY20, according to TRAC, which analyzed data it received through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

An additional 400 people won some type of relief from deportation in FY21 that was not asylum, the researchers note.

In the meantime, asylum seekers will likely have to continue to endure long waiting periods before their cases are heard in court. Prior to the pandemic it was not uncommon for people to wait up to four years for a case to be heard.

“The key thing here in terms of what’s driving a lot of the data is really getting past the pandemic,” Kocher says. “Until the immigration courts are fully open, and society is fully back to normal there’s just no way that the courts are ever going to be able to really get through these cases.”

Source: The Rate of Successful Asylum Cases Shot Up This Year. But That’s Probably Not Due to Biden

Online criteria for Afghan refugee program changes, applies only to those who’ve fled

While one can understand the rationale given the difficulties in leaving Afghanistan under the Taliban, arguably the need is greatest for those stuck in the country. Will likely provoke controversy among the many who have already been working to raise the issues and help them leave:

The Canadian government has quietly changed the criteria on its website for a special program for vulnerable Afghan refugees so that only those who have already managed to escape to other countries are eligible.

The online criteria for the “special humanitarian program” used to include Afghans “who are in Afghanistan or outside of Afghanistan,” but it was changed this month to apply only to those “outside of Afghanistan.”

The program is one of two set up to help bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada and is intended for vulnerable groups including women leaders, persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people and journalists.

The online criteria for the other program, which is aimed at interpreters and others who helped Canada during its military mission as well as embassy staff, still allows those inside Afghanistan to apply.

When the government first announced the special humanitarian program in August, it said it would apply to those outside Afghanistan, but it ultimately included those stuck inside the war-torn country in its online criteria.

Canada was the first country worldwide to  launch a special pathway to Canada for women, girls, LGBTQ and targeted minorities in Afghanistan.

Groups working with Afghans trying to flee the country said the change to the program’s eligibility criteria on Canada’s official website would sow confusion and desperation among Afghans hoping to come to Canada.

It could drive Afghans to resort to people smugglers to get outside the country in order to qualify, they warned.

Alex Cohen, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said Canada was “the first country in the world to announce a humanitarian program for Afghan refugees, which will see some 40,000 refugees start new lives in this country.”

The humanitarian initiative, he said, requires refugees to have left their country of origin to be consistent with the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

He said the government is “adapting our programs to the evolving situation in Afghanistan, and have added a provision to enable two new partner organisations to refer exceptional cases of individuals who are inside Afghanistan.”

“We regularly review IRCC’s public communications to ensure they reflect our policies and provide the best possible information to applicants, and update them accordingly,” he said. “The edit to our website was a communications change, not reflective of a policy shift.”

Stephen Watt of Northern Lights Canada, a refugee organization, said the government’s plan to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada has been wrapped in secrecy ever since it was announced.

“There is still no clear way to apply to the program, or to discover who it is accepting or how it is operating,” he said. “This is a life and death question for many of the people we are talking to within Afghanistan.

“Our government needs to come clean about its plans for these very vulnerable people who it promised to help in the heat of the election, and provide a clear path for providing that help. This isn’t a time for empty promises and secret processes.”

Canada ended its airlift mission from Kabul near the end of August as the U.S. was completing its own withdrawal from the country. Thousands of people with permission to travel to Canada were left behind — including Canadian citizens.

Since the Taliban seized control, it has been increasingly difficult to get people out.

Wendy Noury Long, director of the Afghan Interpreters Association, said she feared that government’s change to its criteria, made in mid October, would drive desperate Afghans to go to extreme lengths to get out of the country so they qualify.

“People will be thinking how do I get out? Do I contact human smugglers? Countries are actively deporting people back to Afghanistan,” she said.

“This is a policy change. This is the explanation of whether you qualify. You are taking a huge risk to try to get out to another country and you might find yourself deported back to Afghanistan.”

The humanitarian program Canada set up to help Afghans at risk has strict eligibility criteria. To qualify, Afghans must also be a woman leader, a human rights advocate, a member of a persecuted religious or ethic minority, in the LGBTQ community, or a journalist or someone who has helped Canadian journalists. As of mid October, they must be located outside Afghanistan.

Those who fit these criteria need to register for refugee status through existing refugee programs, with the United Nations Refugee Agency or the government where they live, and wait to be referred. They can also be identified as eligible by a private sponsor.

Around 3,700 Canadians and Afghan refugees, including former interpreters, were airlifted out by Canada before the end of August.

Approximately 1,700 interpreters and other Afghans with papers to come to Canada are currently in safehouses in Kabul. Some safehouses, being run by an NGO and funded by veterans and private donations, face closure within weeks because of lack of funding.

Source: Online criteria for Afghan refugee program changes, applies only to those who’ve fled

This Syrian IT worker was stuck in limbo in Lebanon. Now he works at Shopify — thanks to a Canadian pilot program for skilled refugees

Looks like a success story for this approach even if numbers are relatively small:

With years of experience in IT and surveillance systems, Omar Taha could easily transfer his skills and knowledge anywhere if an employer would give him a chance.

But being a refugee in Lebanon, the Syrian man didn’t know where to start to find an international employer to sponsor him to another country, let alone have the money and proper documentation such as university transcripts for relocation.

Then a fellow Syrian refugee told him about the recruitment drive by Talent Beyond Boundaries, a global non-profit organization that matches skilled refugees with employers around the world in need of their skills.

“It was in October 2018 when I contacted them. Honestly, I thought my chances of getting a job through them was one in a million,” said Taha, who has a master’s degree in computer engineering and years of work experience in IT and system operations in Syria and Lebanon.

“Then they reached out to me in 2019 and told me there’s this job opportunity with a company called Shopify in Canada and asked if I would be interested. And I was like, ‘Hell, yeah!’”

The 31-year-old man finally ended a life in limbo in January when he and his accountant wife, Roula Dannoura, arrived in Hamilton as permanent residents — among 18 former refugees (plus 27 family members) who came under Ottawa’s pilot program to resettle refugees here based on Canada’s labour market needs.

“A lot of the refugees I know in Lebanon have all sorts of skills and knowledge. But we don’t know how, when or where to start,” said Taha, who now works as a support adviser for Shopify, a multinational e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa.

“I always dreamed of going to Europe or Canada or the U.S. to work there. But it’s very, very hard. How would I go through the process? Why would an international company be interested in someone who was a refugee in Lebanon and didn’t have any Canadian experience?”

With the resounding success of the pilot, Ottawa has expanded the program to recruit up to 500 skilled refugees from around the world.

“We have on a daily basis employers across different sectors now reaching out to us. We’re seeing a significant increase in the private sector engagement,” said Patrick O’Leary, Talent Beyond Boundaries’s Canada director.

“So it’s no longer a proof of concept. And this is really being seen as truly an untapped talent pool in Canada and around the world.”

Since its inception in 2016, the organization has vetted and developed skill profiles of refugees. Its international talent pool currently has 32,000 candidates — in backgrounds from engineering to health care and IT among others — including some 350 Afghans who have registered recently.

Over the last three years, through partnerships with different countries, more than 312 refugees, including 141 principal applicants, have resettled based on this model. While Australia has committed to welcoming 100 skilled refugees, the U.K. is set to usher in 205 refugee nurses in the next six months.

“In terms of the current pandemic, the biggest thing that we’re hearing across sectors in Canada is we need skilled workers,” said O’Leary, whose organization will launch a new online platform soon to allow Canadian employers to glean candidates’ professional profiles directly.

“We are providing a solution that hasn’t been on the table before and employers are coming out now.”

Under Canada’s expanded program, candidates with a job offer are waived permanent residence application fees and biometrics fees. They also have their pre-departure medical services and the immigration medical exam covered.

Those without enough initial settlement fund for their move to Canada are eligible for government loans to help with travel and start-up costs. To make the program more appealing to Canadian employers, immigration officials also aim to process 80 per cent of the cases within a standard of six months through a dedicated team.

Glen Haven Manor, a long-term care facility in New Glasgow, N.S., which has recruited talent locally and globally, welcomes the expanded program. It successfully brought two skilled refugees on staff under the original pilot.

“The long-term care sector throughout Nova Scotia and Canada has been chronically understaffed for many years now,” says Janice Jorden, employee relations specialist at Glen Haven Manor.

“Added pressures from the pandemic have escalated this critical need as well as the growing demands from the constantly increasing care levels of residents. For many nursing homes, being in rural Canada compounds the critical nature of this situation.”

One of the most recent additions to her team is Lamis Alhassan, a former Syrian nurse and nursing instructor, who joined the home in July after living in limbo in Lebanon with her husband, Abd Alazeez Alabaas, also a nurse, and two young daughters for six years.

The 31-year-old registered with Talent Beyond Boundaries in 2016 and spent three years upgrading her English to meet the required language standards before she was offered a job by Glen Haven in late 2019. Due to the visa processing disruption caused by COVID-19, her family received their Canadian visas in April.

“My bosses, colleagues and the residents here really welcomed us with open arms,” said Alhassan, who was matched with a co-worker on the same shift so she can be picked up and dropped off for work because the town only has one bus.

“Life is so quiet and peaceful here. I’m so happy that Canada is expanding this program so more refugees can have a better future and use their skills to make a contribution.”

Alhassan said both she and her husband plan to study toward being licensed to practise nursing in Canada once they are settled.

Source: This Syrian IT worker was stuck in limbo in Lebanon. Now he works at Shopify — thanks to a Canadian pilot program for skilled refugees

Falconer: Why Joe Biden should emulate Canada and go big on private refugee resettlement

Unlikely that it will happen given current polarization but agree with the potential:

As attention turns from the evacuation of Afghanistan to the arrival of refugees, U.S. President Joe Biden has an opportunity for large-scale engagement of the American public in a deeply personal fashion. 

If Canada’s history is any indicator, the capacity of private American citizens to resettle refugees is large and untapped. It may even bridge the divide over immigration in the United States.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon in 1975, some 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were lifted by sea and air to Guam and military bases in the southern United States. They were quickly resettled in the U.S., Canada and other countries, and were soon followed by an even larger exodus of refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. 

Another three million refugees would flee these countries as communist regimes were consolidating power. Many fled on ramshackle boats where almost one in three were lost at sea. Others died of abuse and neglect in camps, where they were preyed upon by unfriendly governments. 

Despite the situation, the international community was slow to respond — only 8,500 refugees were resettled in the four years between the fall of Saigon and May 1979. In Canada, the government of Pierre Trudeau had committed to resettle 5,000 Indochinese refugees, but only 1,100 had arrived. Then, something remarkable happened.

Canada steps up

On the eve of a United Nations conference in Geneva to discuss the issue, Canada announced its intention to resettle 50,000 refugees by the end of 1980, which was just 18 months away. This would later be revised to 60,000. 

Just as astounding was its intention resettle half of these through its new private refugee sponsorship program. Canadians from all walks of life, from rural Manitoba to urban Toronto, could respond to the situation by volunteering their homes, funds and time to receive and resettle Indochinese refugees.

This announcement coincided with swelling Canadian support for refugee resettlement. In February 1979, 89 per cent of Canadians were opposed to inviting more refugees; only seven per cent wanted more. Within months, opposition had tumbled to 38 per cent, while 52 per cent supported increased resettlement. 

Groups ranging from churches to bowling clubs signed up to sponsor individuals and families, while kids sold lemonade at $50 a glass ($175 in 2021 dollars) to fund new arrivals. Rural townships called into Ottawa to ask when they would receive their family, and townhalls that had been convened to debate the topic of refugees turned into spontaneous sponsorship drives.

Pairing sponsors with refugees

In Ottawa, the government was busy matching sponsors to refugees. An enterprising policy officer drew inspiration from the Berlin Airlift to avoid overcrowding at arrival points. In the late 1940s during a Soviet blockade of Berlin, western allies flew continuous supplies to airports in Berlin. 

Thirty years later, the policy officer obtained one of Ottawa’s first computers that matched refugees to sponsors or immediately placed them in a government-assisted stream. This was aimed at ensuring the smooth transition of Indochinese refugees to their new homes.

Despite some hiccups, more than 80 per cent of eligible refugees were matched with sponsors before the planes landed, and by the end of 1980, all 60,000 had arrived. Adjusted to 2020 U.S. population terms, that’s an equivalent of almost 890,000 people resettled in just 18 months.

Subsequent generations of Canadians have responded with equal enthusiasm to new arrivals from the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and Syria, among others. Private sponsorship continues at a steady, moderate level during years between crises, spurred by cultural groups and family members of refugees, but when sudden large displacements capture public attention a large pool of first-time sponsors step forward. 

Roughly five per cent of the Canadian population has sponsored a refugee, while millions more have donated couches, cash or labour.

Bridging American divides

Perhaps this large constituency of people with experience resettling refugees is one explanation for positive Canadian attitudes towards immigration. If so, private refugee resettlement is a policy that could bridge American divides on migration. 

It would also fill the gap left by drastic cuts to the government-funded resettlement sector under the previous Donald Trump administration. Evidence suggests that those sponsored under a private resettlement program do just as well, if not better.

Contrary to their perceptions, polling suggests the answer is yes — support for resettling Afghan interpreters and other allies sits at around 81 per cent and is unusually consistent across party affiliation. 

Sixty-five per cent support expanding resettlement to other Afghans, and 61 per cent are in favour of hosting refugees in their home state.

While the U.S. State Department has announced its intention to start a private sponsorship program, its size or scope isn’t clear yet. Lessons from history teach us that a limited pilot program risks drastically under-utilizing the American capacity for resettlement.

Now is the time for Biden to ask the American people to invite homeless and war-ravaged Afghan refugees into their homes and their communities. Experience has taught us that, like the Statue of Liberty, many will raise their hand in enthusiastic response.

Source: https://theconversationcanada.cmail19.com/t/r-l-trjluyll-kyldjlthkt-a/

Alboim and Kohl: A post-election to-do list for the Afghan crisis

Good practical recommendations:

Now that the federal election is over, it’s time to make urgent policy decisions in response to the Afghan crisis. People remain in peril there and Canada needs to play its part domestically and on the international front.

Canadians worked side-by-side with Afghan nationals to improve security, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, girls’ education and a free press in Afghanistan. Canada has a moral obligation to help people who are now at risk. Even if there is no direct link to Canada, coming to the aid of people in danger is the humanitarian thing to do, the right thing to do. It’s what Canada does and has done well in other refugee crises.

Here’s our suggested to-do list of what government should tackle on an urgent basis.

Get people out
Canada should intensify its work with allies on the diplomatic front to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage out of the country. Afghans with travel authorization to Canada can then leave the country. We should also continue to encourage and support neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to fleeing Afghans and allow Canadian immigration processing to take place in these countries of first asylum.

Increase government assisted refugees 
Prior to calling the election, the Liberals committed to the resettlement of up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals through two new programs. They have now doubled their commitment to 40,000. At least half of these should consist of government-assisted refugees. This will expedite arrivals and send a strong message to private sponsors that they are complementing, rather than replacing, government efforts.

Keep extended families together
Every effort should be made to keep extended families together when selecting refugees for resettlement to Canada. Where families have become separated, it is also important to enable and expedite mechanisms to reunite them. Many people living in dire circumstances, whether in Afghanistan or other countries, are ineligible under existing rules to be reunited with family members in Canada.

People in Canada can sponsor certain close family members, but they cannot sponsor others such as adult children or siblings. This creates an untenable situation. Afghans in Canada will have a hard time adapting to their new life when fraught with worry over relatives who are in peril abroad. Both groups will suffer without the mutual support that they can provide.

Pave the way for private sponsorship
Canadians are willing to pitch in but there are obstacles to private sponsorship. First, the lengthy processing times and backlogs must be reduced. Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with government are further hampered by caps on the number of refugees they can sponsor each year.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, the government allowed sponsors to exceed those caps. The same approach should be taken for Afghan refugees. Additionally, as Canada did with the Syrian crisis, privately sponsored Afghans should be deemed “prima facie” refugees without requiring a formal assessment by the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees or another state. This will allow groups that are not affiliated with agreement holders to play a strong role in private sponsorship.

Clarify the new humanitarian program 
The government has announced a promising new program to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who have managed to leave the country. This includes women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and journalists. The government needs to communicate how eligible people will be identified and what processes will be used for this program. Lists prepared by Canadian organizations, family members and others will be instrumental in identifying candidates.

Speed things up 
Afghan refugee claimants in Canada should be fast-tracked at the Immigration and Refugee Board, as has been done for groups from certain other world areas. We also need to expedite the transition to permanent residence for Afghans who entered the country on a temporary permit because they didn’t have the opportunity to complete their immigration processing overseas. Individuals on a temporary permit are not eligible for federal programs available to permanent residents, including income support and the sponsorship of family members.

Strengthen international aid 
We cannot forget that most vulnerable Afghans are unable to leave and that millions of Afghan refugees are hosted by neighbouring countries. This reality has existed for decades, exacerbated by the most recent crisis. Perhaps the most important task on the government’s to-do list is to increase humanitarian aid for organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan and neighbouring or nearby countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.

Achieving the items on this to-do list will require sustained government commitment, funding and staffing in Canada and abroad. If Canada can check off all of the boxes, we can be confident that we are doing our part in response to this international crisis.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2021/a-post-election-to-do-list-for-the-afghan-crisis/

Daphne Bramham: ‘Political Drano’ needed to unclog Canada’s refugee system

Of note:

Canada’s refugee system is in chaos, a victim of its own success and Canadians’ eagerness to help.

Even before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, it struggled with a backlog of close to 65,000 refugees with permanent resident cards languishing in over-crowded United Nations camps and in countries eager to move them along.

Many are Syrians, who were promised a Canadian home during the 2015 federal election that resulted in an extraordinary effort to settle 25,000 within 100 days.

Also among those waiting are people on Canada’s priority list to help — torture victims, members of persecuted minority groups, people with disabilities, single mothers, and unaccompanied minors.

Afghanistan’s rapid descent has bumped their arrival here even further back, making what was an untenable situation worse. The only solution to unclogging it is “political Drano,” says Chris Friesen.

Friesen is the chief operating officer of Immigrant Services Society of B.C. who helped coordinate Operation Syria in 2015. He says that, as difficult as that was, “this is much worse.”

What he means by political Drano is not just an immediate infusion of money for the processing and settlement of Afghans. It’s more money to fulfill promises of safe haven already made.

It means enhancing the highly successful Group of Five program where citizens can privately sponsor and support the full cost for refugee families’ resettlement for the first year, including rent, shelter, transportation, spending money, food, clothing and household essentials.

There are so many applications already in that queue that — like the refugee queue itself — Friesen said it would take “upwards of two years” for an application filed today to sponsor an Afghan family to make it to the top of the pile.

Like health-care during a pandemic, refugees are triaged. And, right now, few people are at more risk than Afghan human rights activists, judges, journalists and translators who worked with the Canadian military. They are being hunted by the Taliban doing door-to-door searches.

So far, the Canadian response has been muddied because of the federal election.

The immigration minister is still able to sign special permits for Afghans to use as exit visas, but it was impossible for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to get extra money to match the Liberals’ campaign promise to evacuate and settle 20,000 Afghans. The resources have had to come from other programs.

Emergency evacuations have unique problems and costs. Normally, refugees are screened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees before joining the queue for Canada. Even before now, the Canadian process was taking up to two years, with some of that due to COVID restrictions.

There has been no time for that process now. Instead, Afghans are fleeing using special permits issued on the recommendations of various trusted sources and being processed for permanent residency in hotels in Toronto and Calgary, while they quarantine for two weeks under pandemic protocols.

But even that has had unforeseen problems. A measles outbreak was discovered when the first group of Calgary-bound Afghans landed in the United States. They are now quarantined for 28 days and will have to quarantine another 14 days when they get to Canada.

“It’s all very intense,” said Friesen.

On any given day, there is no way to know when, let alone how many, Afghans might arrive. Some come on government-sponsored flights, while others arrive with the help of non-profit groups. 

No targets have been set for how many will go to each province. The working assumption is that it will follow the traditional patterns. For B.C., that’s 10 per cent of the total. But, as of this week, only 78 families and 300 individuals will have arrived.

The intense public glare is adding another layer of stress for those on the front lines. Public interest was high with the Syrians, but Friesen said interest in the Afghans is “astronomical”.

After 20 years of civil society engagement with Afghanistan, Canadians have made personal connections with the country and its people. They have engaged through non-profit groups supporting women, building schools and libraries, as well as through international professional organizations.

As well, deep loyalties were forged with Afghans who helped journalists and soldiers during Canada’s nearly 15 years of military presence. Plus, there are close to 125,000 Afghan-Canadians.

Many of these Canadians have been fielding desperate pleas for help from their friends and colleagues. In turn, they are asking what the government is doing to help.

Among the loudest voices are some of Canada’s 40,000 veterans — 540 live here, including the founders of Veterans Transition Network. It is raising money to shelter and support Afghan interpreters and their families as they await evacuation.

That is in addition to its ongoing work supporting veterans — some of whom already have post-traumatic stress that may have been triggered by the Taliban’s resurgence.

Every day, already over-stretched staff of settlement services across the country and at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada are diverted from their primary roles to field calls from corporations and individuals offering help.

It is more than most can deal with since among the things that IRCC hasn’t been able to do is hire more staff or provide money for the provincial welcome centres.

For now, Friesen said what ISSofBC urgently needs is help finding affordable housing so that refugee families already here can move out of its Welcome House to make room for new arrivals.

It all sounds like a dreadful mess until you realize that what is driving it is something quite rare and precious — Canadians’ desire to be good global citizens and provide safe haven to desperate strangers.

It is goodwill that could easily be frustrated and squandered unless the government acts quickly to unclog the pipeline. And that can only happen with both strong leadership and cooperation within the new minority parliament.

Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjoyvvN757zAhVDtTEKHU22CK4QFnoECAIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fvancouversun.com%2Fnews%2Fdaphne-bramham-political-drano-needed-to-unclog-canadas-refugee-system&usg=AOvVaw03EOafEVuCfVr5H-M_VvkB

Ambrose and Cotler: Bureaucratic barriers are making life even harder for Canada’s allies in Afghanistan

Good bipartisan commentaryÈ

Make no mistake, the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan. Their swift return and seizure of power caught all of us off guard. Afghans who bravely served Canada now find themselves at great risk.

Their lives, and those of their families, are under constant threat of Taliban reprisals. Vulnerable Afghans, including female leaders, human-rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community, have been abandoned in a country where they are now completely marginalized and must hide once again from an old enemy.

For the interpreters and their immediate family members who came to Canada under special immigration measures between 2009 and 2011, this remains a crisis. These Canadian citizens are desperate to help the extended families they left behind, knowing that they will continue to be actively targeted because of who they are related to. Shall we wait until disaster befalls before we hasten our efforts to evacuate these deserving Afghans?

Like many Western countries that rushed to get people out, Canada did its part, evacuating 3,700 people at risk. The door was open, briefly; now it is firmly shut. Those left behind are pleading for us to honour our commitments. They believe that Canada is a just and compassionate country, with a free and open society – at least, that is what we told them when we first came asking for their help. All is not lost. We can still live up to that ideal, but we have to act fast as lives hang in the balance.

Various charitable and volunteer groups have rallied behind the government of Canada’s efforts to evacuate and resettle the maximum number of eligible Afghans. We call on the government to fund these groups that help keep these people and their families safe. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) should simultaneously accelerate the vetting process in partnership with these groups. While we wait for borders to open, we need to protect these people through the continued provision of support inside the country and the issuance by IRCC of documentation proving their official link to Canada. The very act of this recognition is a lifeline and protected pathway out of Afghanistan.

For vulnerable Afghans, the Canadian government needs to allow visa applications from inside Afghanistan. We must not force people to needlessly risk their lives any further on unnecessary and illegal border crossings in the hope that a Canadian embassy or high commission will process their applications in another country, such as Uzbekistan or Pakistan.

We also need to honour our promises to the interpreters who have already resettled in Canada and are fellow citizens. By extending special immigration measures to the extended family members who remain in Afghanistan, we can remove them from harm’s way and make good on our promises.

Most importantly, we must recognize that there is no playbook for this. Blind adherence to policy and inflexibility to change it, despite the challenging situation on the ground, runs counter to the urgency of doing the right thing. It is a cruel reality that those left behind are facing. Canada must remove the barriers that our own policies present. We need to get the proper documentation to these people so we can get them out quickly and safely when the borders open to the world.

Despite the federal election, all parties must stand behind these initiatives. This is not about politics, not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about honouring the commitments we made to the people of Afghanistan and those who served our interests there. Only then will we be able to live up to our belief that Canada is a force for good in the world.

Rona Ambrose, the former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is deputy chairwoman of TD Securities. Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal minister of justice and attorney-general, is the international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-bureaucratic-barriers-are-making-life-even-harder-for-canadas-allies/