Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Reminder of need for caution regarding wannabe returnees:

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria, March 8 (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, attempting to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.

“They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria. “They tried to hit us.”

The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.

Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis. Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity. More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.

The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women. On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.

“The foreigners throw stones. They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials. Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.

‘WE NEED HELP’

Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.

Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.

Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered. But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.

Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children. While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.

“The situation in the camp is very miserable. The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.

When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.

“Even the big tents are full. People are sleeping out in the open.”

The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own. The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.

Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.

CAMP SKIRMISHES

Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin”, and locals who were members or lived under its rule.

“There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.

She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate”. Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.

“The natives … they were kind of rude. They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on. It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.

“Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone. Now there are no problems.”

Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others. “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.

The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.

“There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others. This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “The situation is under control.”

The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz. It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.

Source: Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

How Canadians opened their hearts to refugees

Nice historical piece regarding the origins of the private sponsorship program and the pivotal role Mennonites played in its creation:

Few government contracts have stood the test of time as well as a simply worded deal between Canada and its people that has not only lasted four decades but continues to bolster the country’s reputation for compassion.

The 11-page sponsorship agreement, signed between Ottawa and the Mennonite Church on March 5, 1979, in response to the “boat people” crisis, became the blueprint for Canada’s private refugee resettlement program that has allowed Canadians to play an active role in helping refugees start a new life here.

“My family and I wouldn’t be here without it,” said Ka Lee-Paine, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came here at age 2 with her family in 1979, among the first wave of people accepted under the private refugee sponsorship program.

“We had complete strangers helping us out. The sponsorship meant I could have a good life, get a great education and be a strong woman,” added the now 42-year-old Kitchener teacher. “Ninety-nine per cent of us do understand how fortunate we are to have made it to Canada and we strive to be productive citizens of this country.”

With the help of groups such as the Mennonite Central Committee serving as guarantors and administrators, Canadians have brought almost 350,000 refugees to Canada by providing the newcomers with at least one year of financial and social support.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada has seen a renewed interest in private sponsorships, which accounted for half of the 60,000 Syrians resettled here; the rest were sponsored by the federal government.

Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with the federal government handle applications from individual community groups, who in turn are responsible for raising funds to support the refugees during their first year in the country as well as creating a social network to help them navigate their new lives and find housing and jobs. There are now more than 100 sponsorship agreement holders, mostly faith groups, across Canada.

The mass exodus of Indochinese refugees was sparked by the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. As American soldiers were evacuated from the South Vietnamese capital, Communist troops from the north swept in, hoisting their flags and spreading panic.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fled to neighbouring countries by boat. Many didn’t make it, either drowning at sea or being attacked by pirates. Others ended up languishing for years in overcrowded refugee camps.

In 1978, Ottawa passed a new immigration law with a provision to allow private sponsorships if Canadians would accept full responsibility for the refugees for a year.

But there were no takers, said Mike Molloy, who was director of refugee policies in the Immigration Department at the time.

“Refugee advocates and churches were speaking against it and intimidating others not to get involved. There wasn’t a single sponsorship application coming in,” recalled Molloy, 74, who officially retired from the federal service in 2003.

“The Mennonite Central Committee was a gift. They came to us in late 1978 with a clear altruistic motivation. As a faith community that came here as refugees, they were confident and pragmatic. They played straight with us and we played straight with them.”

Canada had welcomed more than 21,000 Mennonite refugees from Russia in the 1920s and another 8,000 from Eastern Europe after the Second World War, and the community was eager to play a part in helping the boat people, said Bill Janzen, who was tasked by the Mennonite committee with negotiating the deal with Ottawa in 1979.

“Our community was experienced in helping refugees get settled with jobs and a place to live. We had been active with our aid work in Vietnam since 1954. We sympathized with those fleeing from Communist totalitarian regimes,” said Janzen, 75, who was MCC’s office director in Ottawa in 1979.

“It’s human nature to imagine the worst-case scenario and worry about any legal problems, health and financial needs of the people they sponsored. That’s why we decided to step up as an organization for them to fall back on and help them overcome the fear of liability.”

With a mandate from his board to make a deal with the government, Janzen asked for a meeting with senior immigration officials on Feb. 2, 1979. He arrived in Ottawa with a rough outline of what would later turn into the 11-page agreement.

Gordon Barnett, an experienced government negotiator, was Janzen’s counterpart at the bargaining table.

He said one of the sticking points of the negotiation was over the responsibility to provide language classes to privately sponsored refugees.

“It didn’t start out smoothly. Why should the government offer language classes to refugees sponsored by churches? That should be their problem,” recalled Barnett, now 75, who once belonged to a team on the Privy Council tasked with drafting the language rights for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and who retired from the Immigration Department in 1996.

“It was a time when the Indochinese boat people were filling the news and the government was under undue pressure to do something. We were negotiating with the Mennonites and they were so willing to help. We met a few more times and the deal was signed within weeks.”

The agreement laid out the eligibility of who could be a sponsor and the criteria to be sponsored, as well as the sponsorship process, roles and responsibilities — with Ottawa ultimately agreeing to pick up the tab for language training.

The Mennonite agreement inspired groups such as the Presbyterian Church of Canada and Council of Christian Reformed Churches to follow suit. By August 1979, 28 national church organizations as well as Catholic and Anglican dioceses were on board.

By the end of that year, 5,456 private sponsorships had been received for 29,169 refugees, surpassing the 21,000 goal set by the government.

In the end, Canada would roll out the welcome mat to 60,000 Indochinese refugees in the late 1970s and early 1980s, half of them through private sponsorships.

“When I look back on my career, this agreement with the Mennonites was something I really felt good about. At the end, we had a really well-negotiated document because what we negotiated was fair,” said Barnett.

“I thought when the Indochinese refugee crisis was over, the agreement would become a historical document. I never thought it would go on forever. I’m just amazed that it stood the test of time and is still useful to this day.”

Brian Dyck, the Mennonite committee’s current national migration and resettlement program co-ordinator, said the private sponsorship program is unique in that it allows Canadians to be hands-on in helping refugees.

“You have a broad range of people in the community who bring together their social capital to the process. This has helped build Canadians’ awareness of refugee issues over the last 40 years,” said Dyck. “It helps build social cohesion and instills a stronger sense of volunteerism in Canadians.”

Source: How Canadians opened their hearts to refugees

Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Although only covers the first four months (until May 2016), nevertheless interesting and encouraging:

Statistique Canada se penche pour la première fois sur les conditions de vie des réfugiés syriens accueillis au Canada en 2015 et 2016 en raison de la guerre faisant rage dans ce pays depuis 2011. Évaluant notamment combien d’entre eux avaient réussi à se trouver un boulot, l’organisme fédéral de statistiques a constaté que leur revenu moyen était équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés au pays.

Le Canada répondait à ce moment à une situation inquiétante : en 2015, la Syrie était le pays comptant la plus importante population de réfugiés déplacés dans le monde selon les critères du Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés.

En novembre 2015, le gouvernement du Canada avait alors dévoilé un «plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens» au pays.

Ils se sont retrouvés d’un océan à l’autre.

À l’échelle provinciale, c’est en Ontario que le nombre de réfugiés syriens était le plus important, avec 10 210, suivi du Québec, qui en comptait 5295. De ce nombre, 4265 se sont posés dans la métropole et 255 dans la région de Québec.

Au moment de compiler ces données, ces réfugiés syriens n’étaient au pays que depuis un an environ. Les données plus récentes ne sont pas encore comptabilisées et seront dévoilées plus tard.

Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ont été pris en charge par le gouvernement (53%), les autres ayant été parrainés par le secteur privé. Les conditions de vie de ces deux groupes diffèrent, notamment parce que le gouvernement a choisi des gens plus vulnérables : ils sont donc souvent plus jeunes et moins scolarisés que ceux de l’autre groupe.

Ces gens «réinstallés» au Canada entre le 1er janvier 2015 et le 10 mai 2016 étaient en bonne partie des familles avec plusieurs enfants. Ce constat est le reflet du processus de sélection particulier du Canada en lien avec cette crise humanitaire: les familles nombreuses étaient privilégiées, alors que les célibataires avaient moins de chance d’être admis.

Par «réfugiés réinstallés», Statistique Canada fait référence à ceux qui ont été sélectionnés à l’étranger alors qu’ils étaient hors de leur pays d’origine ou de résidence habituelle, et qui ont reçu le statut de résident permanent en raison d’une crainte fondée de retourner dans ce pays.

Ainsi, il a été relevé que 85% des familles syriennes accueillies au pays étaient composées d’un couple ayant des enfants, et ces familles comptaient en moyenne 2,8 enfants.

Par ailleurs, les réfugiés syriens affichaient un taux d’emploi moins élevé que les réfugiés originaires d’autres pays, principalement parce qu’ils étaient au Canada depuis moins longtemps. Au moment du recensement de 2016, sur lequel les calculs de Statistiques Canada sont fondés, les réfugiés syriens comptaient environ quatre mois de résidence au pays en moyenne, alors que les réfugiés originaires d’ailleurs en comptaient le double en moyenne. Ces chiffres pourraient donc changer lors de la prochaine compilation des données.

«L’insertion sur le marché du travail constitue une étape importante pour les immigrants récents en général et pour les réfugiés en particulier, lesquels font face à d’importants défis en raison, notamment, de caractéristiques socioéconomiques particulières, ainsi que des conditions, souvent tragiques, qui les ont menés à quitter leur pays d’origine», est-il noté dans l’analyse.

La méconnaissance par plusieurs des langues officielles du pays rendait aussi plus difficile leur arrivée sur le marché du travail. Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ne connaissaient ni le français ni l’anglais au moment du recensement de 2016.

Plus précisément, environ 20% des réfugiés syriens pris en charge par le gouvernement connaissaient le français ou l’anglais, comparativement à 67% de ceux parrainés par le secteur privé.

Mais une fois ce facteur linguistique pris en compte, ainsi que d’autres différences sociodémographiques, les réfugiés syriens étaient autant susceptibles de travailler que les réfugiés en provenance d’autres pays, conclut Statistique Canada.

Le taux d’emploi était plus élevé parmi les réfugiés admis en 2015, ce qui démontre que la durée de résidence a une incidence sur le degré de participation au marché du travail, note Statistique Canada.

Et leur revenu moyen annuel est équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés, variant de 15 000 $ à 20 000 $ en 2016 pour les Syriens.

Ceux pris en charge par le gouvernement avaient un revenu annuel un peu plus élevé (20 000 $) que ceux parrainés par le privé (15 600 $). Leurs revenus annuels étaient même plus élevés que ceux en provenance d’autres pays.

En 2015, le gouvernement canadien avait annoncé un plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens au Canada avant la fin de février 2016. Après, le Canada a continué d’accueillir des réfugiés syriens, principalement au moyen du parrainage par le secteur privé. Au total, près de 60 000 ont été réinstallés au Canada depuis 2015, est-il précisé dans la note explicative des résultats.

Source: Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Ottawa begins fast-tracking asylum claims from selected countries

While there are risks involved, there does appear to have been careful consideration in terms of the groups and circumstances subject to fast-tracking. And given the backlog and numbers, some form of triage is necessary to separate out more straightforward cases from more complex:

Overwhelmed by asylum claims from irregular migrants crossing the U.S. border, the Immigration and Refugee Board is fast-tracking “less complex” cases from selected countries.

On Tuesday, refugee judges began assessing claims under what is known as a file-review process — meaning a decision is made based on submissions from claimants — without a hearing — and a short-hearing process, where there are few disputable issues.

“These new instructions are examples of initiatives recently put in place to slow the growth of the inventory and wait times for claimants,” refugee board chairman Richard Wex told the Star. “By matching our efforts with the complexity of each claim, we are using our resources more effectively, which will result in more refugee claim decisions.”

The latest statistics show the board has more than 73,000 outstanding claims and the wait time for a hearing now hovers at around 24 months. Many of the claims are from asylum seekers who came through the U.S.-Canada border since late 2015 after U.S. President Donald Trump came into the office with a mandate to crack down on illegal migrants.

In December, the board started triaging the claims based on two newly created lists of countries and claims. In total, 25 refugee judges have been assigned to the new effort.

To qualify for the file-review process, a claimant must be from one of 14 countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen.

However, not every claim from these countries will be automatically expedited.

For instance, only those Saudi Arabian claims alleging persecution based on gender or religious sect can be assessed without a hearing. For asylum seekers from Libya, claims must involve corruption, extortion, kidnapping or threat of kidnapping by militias.

Only some claims from 11 countries are recommended for short hearings: sexual orientation persecution in the Bahamas, Barbados, Iran, Russia, Rwanda and Venezuela; fleeing criminality and corruption in Nigeria, Peru, Saint Vincent and St. Lucia; and threats in Djibouti due to one’s political opinion and activism.

According to the refugee board, these countries and claims were selected for faster processing because they have an acceptance rate of 80 per cent or higher and the type of risks the asylum seekers face are generally well documented.

Officials said a failed claimant under the file-review process is entitled to a full hearing by a refugee judge.

Source: Ottawa begins fast-tracking asylum claims from selected countriesThe Immigration and Refugee Board now fast-tracks “less complex” asylum claims by reviewing evidence without a full hearing as backlog climbs to 74,000 cases with wait times of up to 24 months.

In contrast to the neutral reporting, a typical example of over the top conservative commentary rather than a measured discussion of the risks involved.

The Conservatives also introduced streamlined and tighter processes under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act with mixed success (Former Tory government’s refugee reforms get failing grade | The Star:

The Trudeau government is fast-tracking the approval process for asylum claimants coming from the world’s most violent and dangerous societies.

As I first reported in April 2017, the government was looking at ways to rubber stamp claimants to address the massive backlog of asylum applications that has accumulated in recent years.

This week, they finally rolled out their new controversial process.

Under the new system, individuals from select countries will be accepted as refugees without ever having to present their case in person or appear before an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) judge.

Instead, they’ll be waved through based on what they call a “file review” — a paper application often filled out by a trained immigration lawyer or consultant.

The government justifies these changes by saying the new rules only affect “less complex” cases — in essence, cases dealing with people coming from refugee-producing countries.

The problem is that refugee-producing countries can also be terrorist-producing countries.

According to a notice posted by the IRB, the new rubber stamp program will apply to “all claims” from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Burundi and Eritrea.

Other countries whose citizens are now eligible for fast-tracked acceptance into Canada include Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, Turkey and Egypt.

These changes come just weeks after we learned that a person considered a “national security concern” was admitted to Canada and granted permanent residency.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said this was “entirely unacceptable” and the CBSA president said it was the result of “a series of failures.”

Skipping IRB interviews will only make Canada more vulnerable.

The new fast-tracked system was designed to address the backlog of over 64,000 applications that has grown alongside the dramatic spike in asylum applications and the ongoing crisis of illegal border crossers circumventing Canada’s immigration and border laws.

In 2017, 50,390 migrants entered Canada legally and illegally to make refugee claims. That number jumped to 55,695 last year.

The Trudeau government has done little to stop the record surge in asylum claimants. In fact, there’s ample evidence that the feds are helping to facilitate illegal border crossers.

Just look at Roxham Road — home to 95% of all illegal crossings.

The feds built a land-bridge to make it easier for migrants to enter Canada illegally. They set up a makeshift border station to start processing asylum claims, and they began to offer shuttle bus services to bring migrants to Montreal and Toronto — where they’re given access to government-funded housing, healthcare and other taxpayer-funded services.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly created incentives and encouraged people to come to Canada to make asylum claims. And now, to deal with the backlog that they themselves created, they’re waving through asylum claimants from violent, dangerous and unstable parts of the world.

Rather than carefully and methodically reviewing cases presented by asylum claimants, the government is now skipping important steps and rushing through the process.

But without so much as a short interview with an immigration judge, how can we be sure that the individuals are fleeing violence and are not part of the violence?

The Trudeau government haphazardly opened our borders and invited the world’s migrants to come to Canada. Now, the government is quietly chipping away at the safeguards that were designed to keep Canadians safe.

Source: MALCOLM: Feds roll out fast-tracking for asylum claimants from dangerous countries

Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Speaks for itself and the perseverance to be heard:

Back in August, when Behrouz Boochani was speaking with NPR over the phone, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist said his debut book, written mostly with texts he sent from an Australian detention center, was meant “to make a challenge against this system, to tell the truth to people.” He wasn’t motivated by money.

On Thursday, his work earned him some money anyway.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, which are among Australia’s most prestigious literary prizes, singled out Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison for their highest honor: the Victorian Prize for Literature. His book also won in the nonfiction category.

The Victorian Prize carries a purse of 100,000 Australian dollars, while the nonfiction award brings 25,000 on top of that — or about $90,000 in USD, all told.

But because Boochani remains detained on Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea, at the same offshore facility where he’s been held since 2013, his translator, Omid Tofighian, picked the awards up at the ceremony in his stead. And Boochani had to deliver his remarks through a recorded video message.

“I have always said I believe in words and literature. I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power,” he said. “Literature has the power to give us freedom.”

Boochani himself has not enjoyed physical freedom for more than five years now. He has lived in a kind of legal purgatory since he fled from Iran to Indonesia and then tried to travel to Australia, where he had hoped to obtain asylum after his pro-Kurdish publication attracted the scrutiny of Iranian security forces.

Instead, the boat he’d been riding was intercepted by the Australian authorities, who eventually transferred him to Manus Island. It is there, at what the Australian government calls an “offshore processing centre” — and what what he calls a “prison” — that Boochani has lived for years.

Australia first reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea, back in 2013, to hold some asylum-seekers on its small northern neighbor. Since then the practice has received vehement pushback — including from Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court, which ruled it illegal in 2016, and from multiple international aid organizations.

In a report issued late last year, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, said dozens of the detainees had attempted suicide and still more had considered it.

“While many of our patients had experienced trauma,” said MSF’s Christine Rufener,it was the Australian policy of indefinite processing that destroyed all their hope for the future and devastated their mental health.”

Despite the ruling of Papua New Guinea’s high court, and despite the Manus Island camp’s formal closure later, hundreds of asylum-seekers continue to languish on the island without much idea of what may come next.

During Boochani’s years-long detention, he wrote his book in Farsi, in dispatch after dispatch sent via WhatsApp, which Tofighian then translated into English and organized. The result is a hybrid text that eschews easy classification, combining journalism, poetry and critical theory to craft what the prize’s judges called “a new understanding both of Australia’s actions and of Australia itself.”

“Altogether, this is a demanding work of significant achievement,” they explained in their citation. “No Friend But the Mountains is a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent.”

In the end, Boochani told NPR, his work in some way is also a gesture of hope: “We all hope that finally, after five years, we get freedom in a place like America or other countries.”

Source: Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Did Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed jump the queue with her speedy resettlement to Canada?

Good overview on the process followed:

Did Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun jump the queue over other refugees when Canada quickly opened its doors to the Saudi teen who was fleeing an allegedly abusive family?

Not according to Canadian immigration officials and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

While Rahaf’s plea for help on social media got her international headlines and drew the attention of the UNHCR to her plight, the emergency rescue effort was by no means unique — though the warm embrace by a foreign minister at the airport may be.

According to immigration officials, some 200 people are processed under Canada’s Urgent Protection Program each year, with about 50 resettled within the rapid timelines seen in Rahaf’s case. The 18-year-old arrived in Toronto Saturday — accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland — after a tumultuous week that began with Rahaf escaping from her family during a trip to Kuwait. Rahaf then flew to Bangkok, where she was detained by Thai authorities who prepared to deport her to Saudi Arabia, where she feared for her life.

“Canada has the flexibility to respond quickly to individual emergency situations for a small number of refugees,” said immigration department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon. “These individuals are resettled on an expedited basis due to their particular circumstances.”

In a news conference in Toronto Tuesday, Rahaf, who has dropped her last name after she learned on social media that her family has disowned her, admitted she was “lucky.”

“I know that there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or who could not do anything to change their reality,” she told reporters.

People in need of protection cannot apply directly to the special Canadian program and requests must be made by referral organizations, such as the UNHCR.

Since Rahaf’s speedy resettlement to Canada — less than a week after she started a Twitter campaign while barricaded inside her hotel room — she has faced backlash not only from internet trolls criticizing her as a disgrace to her family and Islam but also from refugee supporters accusing her of being a queue jumper.

“A Syrian refugee from a war zone who lost everything is not welcome in the west. But a person from a golden palace in Saudi-Arabia who says ‘I am not a Muslim anymore’ is a hero and very welcome. Can someone explain this to me?” Arnoud van Doorn, a member of The Hague City Council in the Netherlands, asked on Twitter.

In Rahaf’s case, the UNHCR dispatched a team to her hotel room in Bangkok for an emergency resettlement assessment after learning from media reports that the teenager was going to be handed over to her family, who were en route to Thailand and planned to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

Among the 25.4 million refugees worldwide, less than 1 per cent end up being resettled, many of them after years in limbo.

“Emergency resettlement is extremely rare,” noted Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UNHCR representative to Canada. “Based on agreed-upon criteria, we refer these cases to the 30 countries that offer resettlement programs. There are many situations. It could be for the lack of medical care or the fear of torture if someone is returned to the country of origin.”

At her hotel in Bangkok, Rahaf was given a formal interview where she was asked to provide the details and evidence to substantiate her claims of mental and physical abuse by her family. After she got her UNHCR refugee designation, she underwent a thorough security and criminal check, as well as a medical exam, before being admitted to Canada.

“Rahaf met those criteria and we referred her case to several countries. Canada was the fastest to respond. Rahaf can’t choose her destination. She didn’t jump any queue. It’s a different process with different criteria,” said Beuze. “It’s not a unique case, but it’s only unique because of all the media and social media attention.”

While some critics fear Rahaf’s case may set a precedent and open the floodgates for other Middle Eastern women to claim gender oppression, experts say resettlement is only available to those who make it outside their country of origin.

“The assumption is your country can protect you. You become a refugee because you don’t get the protection and other countries need to step in,” said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “Due to the notion of sovereignty, you can’t be a refugee in your own country.”

While praising Canada’s quick response to Rahaf’s situation, Dench said government officials must not politicize the refugee resettlement process by only prioritizing cases of those “who have the ears of the Prime Minister or Immigration Minister and are the favourite of the month of the media.”

According to the UNHCR, 1.4 million refugees have been identified for resettlement in 2019, but only 80,000 spots are available, including 11,000 in Canada.

Source: Did Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed jump the queue with her speedy resettlement to Canada?

Christie Blatchford has a nice column on her strong character and independence, somewhat spoiled by her last editorial comments on grief and trauma counsellors:

She is a psychologically sturdy, resourceful and strong-willed young woman, this Rahaf Mohammed, recent “urgent protection” case freshly arrived in Toronto from Saudi Arabia via Kuwait and Thailand.

“I want to be independent, travel, make my own decisions on education, a career or who and when I should marry,” she said Tuesday at a big press appearance at COSTi Immigrant Services in the city’s west end.

“I had no say in any of this,” Rahaf said. “Today, I can proudly say that I am capable of making all of those decisions.”

She spoke in Arabic, her words translated and read in English by her COSTI settlement worker, Saba Abbas.

But there is no doubt she wrote it, said COSTI executive director Mario Calla with a grin, acknowledging he has seen evidence of the ferocious independent spirit himself.

For instance, he said, inundated with media requests from across the globe, Rahaf was crystal clear that she would do three interviews (with the ABC Australia network, the CBC and Toronto Star) and that was it, because “ ‘I want to get on with my life,’” Calla said.

“We suggested a press conference,” he said and she agreed to write a statement.

“That statement was all her,” Calla said. “She’s been very clear.”

As she said in it, “I understand that everyone here and around the world wishes me well and would like to continue to hear about how I am doing, but I will not be conducting any more media interviews for the time being.

“I ask everyone to respect my wishes.

“I would like to start living a normal private life, just like any other young woman living in Canada. This starts with me getting help in my settlement process and of course, learning English!”

As a government-sponsored refugee, Rahaf is entitled to 12 months of support (worth almost as much as social assistance, Calla said, lest the amount fuel local resentment), and COSTI will help with English classes, getting her settled into temporary accommodation (first with a family, later on her own) and has hired security guards as protection.

In defying her family and leaving behind the repressive guardianship system of Saudi Arabia, which infantilizes women from cradle to grave and makes them dependent on male relatives (father, husband, brother, etc.) for every decision, the 18-year-old has potentially put herself in danger.

Any country brazen enough to arrange to murder one of its own, as Saudi officials have acknowledged doing to journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, has a long and lethal reach.

As well, Rahaf has been vilified in the Arab world, with the Kingdom insisting the entire business is a family matter blown out of proportion. Amid all the love she has received on social media, inevitably for this new media world, there comes a backlash, and she also has received some threats. She has left Islam.

And Rahaf’s family has apparently denounced her in a tweet of its own; even discussing this was painful for her in the interviews she did.

“She finds it very difficult,” Calla said after her brief appearance before the cameras. “She does not want to talk about those things.” So she decided, he said, fine, she’d pull the Band-Aid off in one fell swoop: “’I’ll get it out there’” (in the interviews) and be done with it.

She arrived in Canada last Saturday after sneaking out from under her family’s grasp on the last day of their holiday in Kuwait, hopping a plane to Bangkok, and then, with her father and brother apparently enroute to retrieve her, barricading herself in an airport hotel room and launching a desperate Twitter campaign begging for help.

She had the savvy of her age group, to harness social media. It’s new, but refugees have long been innovative. As Calla said, “It’s a complex world. People do everything and anything to try to save themselves.” Some sneak over borders; some jump into little boats and try to cross perilous oceans; a few, and probably soon a few more, use social media.

For all her determination and resourcefulness, she’s also just a teenager. The first order of business, Calla said, after she arrived was to go to the mall.

Rahaf had been expecting to end up in Australia, where she was also welcomed, but the bureaucracy there was slower moving, and on the advice of the UNHCR, she landed in Canada instead, wearing just a little skirt. She needed winter clothes.

“And a phone package,” Calla said, smiling. “We did that on Saturday.”

In her new country, press-gangs of grief counsellors and soothers are brought into high schools and colleges at the first hint of trauma, discomfort, even disrespect. The cultural assumption here is that we are fragile beings. So, Calla was asked if Rahaf is receiving psychological support.

“She is not, right now,” he said. “We do have services at COSTI … We have not seen any signs of distress in that sense.” In the longer term, he said, “for any refugee, the big challenge is the loss — family and friends and a culture that was familiar to them.”

In that sense, one of the country’s newest arrivals is like a delicious throwback to an older and more self-reliant Canada.

Stay tough, darling.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Stow the trauma counsellors, this tough runaway is doing fine on her own

Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Appears the government overplayed its hand in its communication strategy, both with respect to the Ministerial welcome (all too tempting) and the ongoing (and understandable) gap between the welcoming rhetoric and actual numbers.

However, Ms. Alqunun’s social media sophistication and poise in her CBC interview is impressive:

If Canada were a proud and principled beacon unto the world’s most downtrodden, as so many so often claim, then one might have expected Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Saturday with relatively little fanfare.

Canada resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, after all, and many are fleeing circumstances just as horrific as the Saudi teenager’s abuse by her family. Canadian government officials are guarding Alqunun’s current whereabouts partly on grounds she might still be in danger even halfway around the world — an idea given credence by Dennis Horak, who was Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh until he was expelled over the summer.

Indeed, Saudi-Canadian relations are not in terrific shape just at the moment, thanks to our public rebukes of its treatment of activists, and granting immediate asylum to the world’s highest-profile Saudi refugee seems unlikely to help matters. One might very reasonably not give a damn about the House of Saud’s amour propre, but Ottawa would clearly prefer to repair those relations. Quite apart from anything else, it would give Canada more-than-zero leverage in lobbying on behalf of those activists — including imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Canadian citizen.

There were no good reasons to make a big show of Alqunun’s arrival, in other words, and plenty of good reasons not to. Furthermore, Justin Trudeau has been very clear about what he thinks of using refugees as political props. He was at his most thespian back in 2015 when it was alleged Stephen Harper’s office had been sifting through applications from Syrian asylum-seekers in search of potential photo ops.

“That’s DIS-GUST-ING,” Trudeau hissed at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C. “That’s not the Canada we want; that’s not the Canada we need to build.”

In the end, though, there was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with her arm draped around Alqunun, announcing that this “brave new Canadian” would not be taking questions. Luckily, Freeland herself had arrived equipped with some crimson talking points.

“I believe in lighting a single candle,” she said. “Where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that is a good thing to do. … And I’d like to also emphasize, this is part of a broader Canadian policy of supporting women and girls in Canada and around the world.”

“Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau chimed in.

It would be well-nigh impossible to argue against hearing, at the very least, Alqunun’s claim for asylum. But at this point, she is certainly also a political prop — a living symbol of the Liberal view of Canada’s place in the world, and an always-welcome opportunity for self-congratulation.

“We are demonstrating our moral leadership on the issue of gender equality,” University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani wrote in The Globe and Mail. “It was another proud moment for Canada,” gushed Catherine Porter, The New York Times’ Toronto correspondent. It “further cement(ed) the country’s status as a bastion of refuge in a world where Western nations have become increasingly hostile to refugees,” the Times’ Twitter account effused.

“Any woman from Saudi Arabia should be able to make a credible case for asylum in this country based on the human rights abuses they endure there,” the Toronto Star’s editorial board averred. And on and on and on.

Saudi Arabia is a country of 33 million people. So no, not every woman there can claim asylum in Canada. I suspect the Liberals might balk at five high-profile claims in rapid succession. That’s what they do. The Liberals made a big show of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees while various European nations accepted many multiples of that; now they brag about how accepting Canadians are of refugees relative to Europe, as if one didn’t largely explain the other. They denounce any worries about asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally as rank intolerance, while waving the new arrivals into an interminable and disastrously under-resourced queue.

There are millions upon millions of displaced people around the world in whom you might expect a giant, wealthy and mostly empty country that prides itself on resettling refugees to take an interest. They aren’t even on the radar. NDP MP Charlie Angus has a more realistic take on what Canada is: “Thousands languish in camps and Chrystia Freeland promotes sale of death machines to Saudis as children die in Yemen,” he tweeted in response to Freeland’s airport press conference. “Foreign policy must be more than smug theatre,” he added.

Well, there’s the rub: Must it?

Canadians of all political stripes take inordinate pride in objectively modest contributions to all manner of global problems. There is nothing inherently disreputable in feeling pride when your country does the right thing — but only if you insist that your country does the right thing continually, coherently and consistently once the warm, fuzzy feeling fades away. Once she’s settled, if she is inclined to remain in the public eye, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun might be the ideal person to hammer that point home.

Source: Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children

Good and disturbing reporting:

She was 3 years old when she arrived on Nauru, a child fleeing war in Sri Lanka. Now, Sajeenthana is 8.

Her gaze is vacant. Sometimes she punches adults. And she talks about dying with ease.

“Yesterday I cut my hand,” she said in an interview here on the remote Pacific island where she was sent by the Australian government after being caught at sea. She pointed to a scar on her arm.

“One day I will kill myself,” she said. “Wait and see, when I find the knife. I don’t care about my body. ”

Her father tried to calm her, but she twisted away. “It is the same as if I was in war, or here,” he said.

Sajeenthana is one of more than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekerswho have been sent to Australia’s offshore detention centers since 2013. No other Australian policy has been so widely condemned by the world’s human rights activists nor so strongly defended by the country’s leaders, who have long argued it saves lives by deterring smugglers and migrants.

Now, though, the desperation has reached a new level — in part because of the United States.

Sajeenthana and her father are among the dozens of refugees on Nauru who had been expecting to be moved as part of an Obama-era deal that President Trump reluctantly agreed to honor, allowing resettlement for up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore camps.

So far, according to American officials, about 430 refugees from the camps have been resettled in the United States — but at least 70 people were rejected over the past few months.

That includes Sajeenthana and her father, Tamil refugees who fled violence at home after the Sri Lankan government crushed a Tamil insurgency.

A State Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the rejections, arguing the Nauru refugees are subject to the same vetting procedures as other refugees worldwide.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that Nauru has “appropriate mental health assessment and treatment in place.”

But what’s clear, according to doctors and asylum seekers, is that the situation has been deteriorating for months. On Nauru, signs of suicidal children have been emerging since August. Dozens of organizations, including Doctors Without Borders (which was ejected from Nauru on Oct. 5) have been sounding the alarm. And with the hope of American resettlement diminishing, the Australian government has been forced to relent: Last week officials said they would work toward moving all children off Nauru for treatment by Christmas.

At least 92 children have been moved since August — Sajeenthana was evacuated soon after our interview — but as of Tuesday there were still 27 children on Nauru, hundreds of adults, and no long-term solution.

The families sent to Australia for care are waiting to hear if they will be sent back to Nauru. Some parents, left behind as their children are being treated, fear they will never see each other again if they apply for American resettlement, while asylum seekers from countries banned by the United States — like Iran, Syria and Somalia — lack even that possibility.

For all the asylum seekers who have called Nauru home, the psychological effects linger.

Nauru is a small island nation of about 11,000 people that takes 30 minutes by car to loop. A line of dilapidated mansions along the coast signal the island’s wealthy past; in the 1970s, it was a phosphate-rich nation with per capita income second only to Saudi Arabia.

Now, those phosphate reserves are virtually exhausted, and the country relies heavily on Australian aid. It accounted for 25 percent of Nauru’s gross domestic product last year alone.

Mathew Batsiua, a former Nauruan lawmaker who helped orchestrate the offshore arrangement, said it was meant to be a short-term deal. But the habit has been hard to break.

“Our mainstay income is purely controlled by the foreign policy of another country,” he said.

In Topside, an area of old cars and dusty brush, sits one of the two processing centers that house about 160 detainees. Hundreds of others live in community camps of modular housing. They were moved from shared tents in August, ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental meeting that Nauru hosted this year.

Sukirtha Krishnalingam, 15, said the days are a boring loop as she and her family of five — certified refugees from Sri Lanka — wait to hear if the United States will accept them. She worries about her heart condition. And she has nightmares.

“At night, she screams,” said her brother Mahinthan, 14.

In the past year, talk of suicide on the island has become more common. Young men like Abdullah Khoder, a 24-year-old Lebanese refugee, says exhaustion and hopelessness have taken a toll. “I cut my hands with razors because I am tired,” he said.

Even more alarming: Children now allude to suicide as if it were just another thunderstorm. Since 2014, 12 people have died after being detained in Australia’s offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea.

Christina Sivalingam, a 10-year-old Tamil girl on Nauru spoke matter-of-factly in an interview about seeing the aftermath of one death — that of an Iranian man, Fariborz Karami, who killed himself in June.

“We came off the school bus and I saw the blood — it was everywhere,” she said calmly. It took two days to clean up. She said her father also attempted suicide after treatment for his thyroid condition was delayed.

Seeing some of her friends being settled in the United States while she waits on her third appeal for asylum has only made her lonelier. She said she doesn’t feel like eating anymore.

“Why am I the only one here?” she said. “I want to go somewhere else and be happy.”

Some observers, even on Nauru, wonder if the children are refusing to eat in a bid to leave. But medical professionals who have worked on the island said the rejections by the Americans have contributed to a rapid deterioration of people’s mental states.

Dr. Beth O’Connor, a psychiatrist working with Doctors Without Borders, said that when she arrived last year, people clung to the hope of resettlement in the United States. In May, a batch of rejections plunged the camp into despair.

Mr. Karami’s death further sapped morale.

“People that just had a bit of spark in their eye still just went dull,” Dr. O’Connor said. “They felt more abandoned and left behind.”

Many of the detainees no longer hope to settle in Australia. New Zealand has offered to take in 150 refugees annually from Nauru but Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, has said that he will only consider the proposal if a bill is passed banning those on Nauru from ever entering Australia. Opposition lawmakers say they are open to discussion.

In the meantime, Nauru continues to draw scrutiny.

For months, doctors say, many children on Nauru have been exhibiting symptoms of resignation syndrome — a mental condition in response to trauma that involves extreme withdrawal from reality. They stopped eating, drinking and talking.

“They’d look right through you when you tried to talk to them,” Dr. O’Connor said. “We watched their weights decline and we worried that one of them would die before they got out.”

Lawyers with the National Justice Project, a nonprofit legal service, have been mobilizing. They have successfully argued for the medical evacuation of around 127 people from Nauru this year, including 44 children.

In a quarter of the cases, the government has resisted these demands in court, said George Newhouse, the group’s principal lawyer.

“We’ve never lost,” he said. “It is gut-wrenching to see children’s lives destroyed for political gain.”

A broad coalition that includes doctors, clergy, lawyers and nonprofit organizations, working under the banner #kidsoffnauru, is now calling for all asylum seekers to be evacuated.

Public opinion in Australia is turning: In one recent poll, about 80 percent of respondents supported the removal of families and children from Nauru.

Australia’s conservative government, with an election looming, is starting to shift.

“We’ve been going about this quietly,” Mr. Morrison said last week. “We haven’t been showboating.”

But there are still questions about what happens next.

Last month, Sajeenthana stopped eating. After she had spent 10 days on a saline drip in a Nauruan hospital, her father was told he had two hours to pack for Australia.

Speaking by video from Brisbane last week (we are not using her full name because of her age and the severity of her condition), Sajeenthana beamed.

“I feel better now that I am in Australia,” she said. “I’m not going back to Nauru.”

But her father is less certain. The United States rejected his application for resettlement in September. There are security guards posted outside their Brisbane hotel room, he said, and though food arrives daily, they are not allowed to leave. He wonders if they have swapped one kind of limbo for another, or if they will be forced back to Nauru.

Australia’s Home Affairs minister has said the Nauru children will not be allowed to stay.

“Anyone who is brought here is still classified as a transitory person,” said Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center. “Life certainly isn’t completely rosy and cheery once they arrive in Australia.”

On Monday, 25 more people, including eight children, left the island in six family units, she said.

Those left behind on Nauru pass the days, worrying and waiting.

Christina often dreams of what life would be like somewhere else, where being 10 does not mean being trapped.

A single Iranian woman who asked not to be identified because she feared for her safety said that short of attempting suicide or changing nationality, there was no way off Nauru.

She has been waiting two years for an answer to her application for resettlement in the United States — one that now seems hopeless given the Trump administration’s policies.

Each night, often after the power goes out on Nauru, she and her sister talk about life and death, and whether to harm themselves to seek freedom.

Source: The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children 

Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

Interesting. Will be good to see how the pilot works in Canada:

Call it a global job recruitment agency for refugees.

A Washington-based NGO has built a refugee talent pool and is matching candidates with employers from around the world. Not only does it help pull displaced migrants out of poverty, it alleviates labour shortages in western countries by providing them with skilled workers.

Since its 2016 inception, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) has vetted and developed skill profiles for more than 10,000 refugees now in Lebanon and Jordan — 30 per cent of them with an undergrad degree or above and half with intermediate to full English proficiency.

The talent pool includes people from 200 professions, the majority with a background in engineering, health care, IT, teaching, accounting and university education.

“We need to change the narrative of the way we view refugees as unskilled and uneducated,” said Bruce Cohen, a former counsel in the U.S. Senate, who co-founded the organization with his wife Mary Louise Cohen, also a lawyer. “This is not to undercut the existing refugee resettlement effort but to open up new pathways to add to the solution.”

With an established — and still expanding — talent pool as well as backing from the United Nations Refugee Agency, the project has reached out to Canadian employers and is using Canada as the testing ground to bring in skilled refugees on work permits and maybe even as permanent residents.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the World Bank and other private foundations, TBB is partnering with the Canadian government, the UN and RefugePoint, an agency that promotes refugee resettlement and self-reliance, to divert refugees in Kenya and the Middle East to Canada through a pilot program. The pilot has the support of Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. All candidates must go through the same stringent requirements to qualify.

To date, across Canada, job offers have been made to six refugee candidates, including Mohammed Hakmi, who fled to Beirut with his family in 2011 when war broke out in Syria.

The native of Homs has a degree in information technology and more than five years of experience as a web developer and in computer networking. After responding to a post on Facebook by TBB, Hakmi was interviewed in English and assessed by experts in IT. Staff helped build his resumé to highlight his skills, experience and achievements.

“Being a refugee doesn’t mean a person is uneducated, that he or she is not innovative and effective in society. Many of us had good careers. No one chose to be a refugee and get trapped in these really terrible circumstances,” said Hakmi, 26, who, in September, applied for a work permit with a job offer from Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive, with pro bono help from Toronto’s Segal Immigration Law.

“Refugees are not a liability but actually a good investment for the future. When you have been through so much, you value every opportunity you are given because you know how much of a gift it is. Refugees are the most dedicated workers you will find.”

Kris Braun, Bonfire’s director of engineering, said the company is looking to double its size and would require a number of talented software developers, who are in short supply.

“Canada’s tech industry is growing at a fast rate and we struggle to find good (job) candidates,” he said. “Refugees are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing wars and conflicts. Part of it is to hold meaningful work. This is a win-win for us.”

Cohen said skilled worker and economic immigration policies are not designed with refugees’ circumstances in mind and requirements such as recent work experience and minimum settlement funds make it impossible for skilled refugees to qualify. It limits their migration options to humanitarian consideration only, he said.

Currently, fewer than 1 per cent of the 20 million UN-registered refugees around the world are resettled from a temporary host country in the developing world to the west.

“If you are a refugee or displaced person, you either run without your passport or your passport has likely expired while you are in another country,” said Cohen. “It’s these kinds of things that we need some flexibility and adjustments to make a difference.”

Cohen said he hopes to resettle as many as 25 refugees to Canada under the joint pilot with Ottawa and if successful, expand it to other countries.

Source: Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers