Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

Of note:

The federal government has spent almost $94-million since the last election booking entire hotels for months to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada, according to an access-to-information request.

Since September, 2021, the Immigration Department has paid $93,886,222 for “long leases” with hotels, mostly in Quebec, setting them aside for asylum seekers, including those entering the country through the irregular border crossing at Quebec’s Roxham Road.

The department booked 30 hotels between April and December last year – 10 in Montreal alone, according to a redacted response to the access-to-information request.

The Immigration Department said it wants to help take pressure off the provinces, even though the housing of asylum seekers is a provincial responsibility.

By block booking hotel rooms, it can ensure there are enough places to house the “the rising volume of asylum claimants crossing between the ports of entry, who have no housing options available to them,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

She added that most come through the Roxham Road and Lacolle border crossings in Quebec from the United States.

The discovery of the body of Haitian migrant Fritznel Richard near Roxham Road this month reignited a debate in Quebec about the irregular border crossing, about an hour’s drive from Montreal.

A briefing document for the Immigration Department’s deputy minister on irregular migration from July last year said at that time the government had 1,721 rooms leased in 24 hotels in 12 locations across Canada.

It said a big rise in airport arrivals, mainly in Montreal, in June last year meant that the department had to transfer asylum claimants from Quebec to hotels in Ottawa and Niagara Falls. They hired 300 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls in July, to cope with an “accommodation crisis in Quebec.”

“While this option is not cost effective, it was the only immediate solution in this circumstance,” the briefing document said.

Quebec Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he and other MPs were concerned not just about the cost of block booking entire hotels, but the fact that many rooms are unoccupied a lot of the time. He said one such hotel, Hotel St-Bernard in Lacolle, seven minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, is often empty. The hotel declined to comment.

“What we want is to stop the illegal border crossing. If they don’t do anything to stop it, we will need more hotel rooms and the problems will get worse,” he said, adding that it was also having an impact on tourism.

The organizer of an annual kids’ hockey tournament in Montreal – which is holding its 30th anniversary event in May and June – told The Globe that families cannot find rooms in hotels the tournament has booked for decades because so many have been totally reserved.

Dave Harroch, who runs the Montreal Madness hockey tournament, said families may now have to stay far from where the games will be held, on the West Island of Montreal.

“One of the hotels told me they are only 20 per cent occupied,” he said.

Between last April and December, the Immigration Department booked one Montreal hotel with 175 rooms for $7.5-million and another 160-room hotel in the city for $9.7-million.

In Dorval, near Montreal’s international airport, it booked a 112-room hotel for $5.2-million in the same period. And between September and December, a 117-room hotel was leased for $1.3-million.

The Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, near the airport, is among those reserved for asylum seekers. The hotel declined to comment.

The Comfort Inn Aeroport in Dorval is another. Choice Hotels Canada, which has the Comfort Inn brand within its stable, said it was up to its franchisees to decide whether to lease their hotels to the government.

The access-to-information request shows the Immigration Department had a long-term lease on a 39-room hotel between April and December last year in Lacolle, just minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, at a cost of $1.7-million. It refused to name the hotel.

The information request shows that in Niagara Falls, the government booked a 150-room hotel between October and December last year and an 85-room hotel between April and December, each at a cost of about $1.6-million.

From July to December last year the Immigration Department spent just over $2-million on a 50-room Ottawa hotel. Between April to October it spent just over $1-million on a 30-room hotel in the capital.

The government has also spent millions reserving entire hotels for asylum seekers who move on to other parts of Canada, including in Winnipeg, Lethbridge, Alta. and Surrey, B.C.

Source: Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

A new program lets private citizens sponsor refugees in the U.S.

Welcome return:

Everyday Americans will be able to help refugees adjust to life in the U.S. in a program being launched by the State Department as a way to give private citizens a role in resettling the thousands of refugees who arrive every year.

The State Department plans to announce the program, dubbed the Welcome Corps, on Thursday. The agency aims to line up 10,000 Americans who can help 5,000 refugees during the first year of the program.

“By tapping into the goodwill of American communities, the Welcome Corps will expand our country’s capacity to provide a warm welcome to higher numbers of refugees,” according to the announcement.

The State Department has traditionally worked with nonprofit groups that specialize in refugee issues to help people from around the world when they first arrive in the country and face a dramatically different way of life. Under the program being announced Thursday, five or more Americans would be able to form a group and fill this role as well.

They would apply to privately sponsor refugees to resettle in America, and would be responsible for raising their own money to help the refugees during their first 90 days in the country. Assistance would include everything from finding a place to live to getting kids enrolled in school.

A consortium of nonprofits with expertise in refugee resettlement will help oversee the vetting and certification of people and groups who want to be private sponsors. They’ll also offer training so private sponsors understand what’s needed to help refugees adjusting to life in America. The consortium will be responsible for monitoring the program.

The new initiative will roll out in two phases, according to the State Department. Under the first phase, private sponsors will be matched with refugees already approved for resettlement under the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program. That will start during the first half of 2023.

In the second phase of the program, private sponsors would be able to identify refugees abroad that they would like to help and then refer those people to the Refugee Assistance Program and assist them once they arrive in the U.S.

The Welcome Corps program comes on the heels of a similar, smaller scale endeavor under which Americans were able to sponsor Afghans or Ukrainians fleeing their country. That program launched in October 2021 and has helped just over 800 people coming to America through a network of 230 certified sponsors.

President Joe Biden vowed in a 2021 executive order to restore the U.S. as the world’s haven and called for private sponsorship of refugees. The previous administration, under President Donald Trump, had largely rolled back the refugee program.

Source: A new program lets private citizens sponsor refugees in the U.S.

Why some groups are quitting Canada’s popular refugee sponsorship program

Of concern, and finding the right balance on accountability:

Canada’s Syrian resettlement project spurred an outpouring of public support for refugees, but now the federal government is trying to ease growing pains that have come with the hugely popular private sponsorship program.

Since Canadians from coast to coast welcomed displaced Syrians to their communities in 2015, the number of sponsorship agreement holders or SAH — organizations authorized to resettle overseas refugees in Canada — has surged from 90 to 138 in 2022.

The annual number of refugees brought to Canada through the SAHs — and supported by local community groups — had doubled from 9,350 to 19,143 in 2019, before the COVID pandemic hampered the work. This year, 27,750 refugees are expected to come from around the world under private sponsorships.

As a result, the immigration department has recently implemented new rules to govern the work of these religious, ethnic, community or humanitarian organizations — as well as sponsorship groups that raise money and volunteer to help newcomers settle in Canada by taking them to appointments and securing housing and jobs.

While the changes are welcomed to ensure refugees’ needs are met, some sponsorship agreement holders, particularly the ones relying heavily on volunteers, say the cumbersome paperwork and mandatory audits are stretching their limited resources.

At least two groups are calling it quits, including the Anglican diocese in British Columbia. The Star has learned that as many as 10 organizations have said they’re unable to continue their work, meaning fewer refugees would be sponsored down the road.

“In the face of growing conflicts around the world, this is more important than ever. We have undertaken this work despite the steep administrative costs, because we know how important it is,” Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee of the Diocese of British Columbia wrote in an open letter to constituents before Christmas.

“This is a difficult decision for us, and we recognize that there will be uncertainty in our community.”

She said the diocese will honour the commitment to the 290 applications still in process and cease its sponsorship program when its current agreement with the government expires.

A 2016 government review found the essential needs of resettled refugees were met but that there was a lack of monitoring of the private sponsorship program. Immigration staff were also unsure to what extent they needed to keep an eye on how the sponsorships went.

In late 2017, officials created the resettlement services assurance team to monitor whether resettled refugees were receiving the required financial and non-financial support from their sponsors, a task that was seen as having been carried out inconsistently by local offices.

Since then, a total of 821 sponsorships have been flagged for “case reviews” through external complaints and internal monitoring mechanism.

In most cases, officials say they are able to work with the sponsors to address the deficiencies in the support provided and avoid a sponsorship breakdown and/or default.

Between 2018 and last year, a total of 821 sponsorships broke down after sponsored refugees changed where they planned to live or the contention identified in the reviews could not be resolved. In 76 cases, the sponsors were found to be at fault.

As part of the new assessment regime, SAHs have to be revalidated. They must meet all eligibility criteria; demonstrate the ability to monitor their caseloads and constituent sponsorship groups; submit an extensive form detailing organizational structure and operational plans; complete mandatory sponsorship training and provide financial statements within the past 18 months.

Recognizing some organizations may need time to meet the new requirements, officials have put in a temporary exemption for missing audited financial statements. However, those groups will be put on a watch list and required to provide proof of funds and settlement plans for each sponsorship application.

According to the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association, 30 per cent of its members are completely volunteer-run organizations and another 12 per cent had only one part-time staff member. They oversee and support multiple sponsorship groups and facilitate anywhere from 10 to several hundred applications annually.

As the process is already cumbersome, some groups, especially the smaller ethnic-based organizations, are concerned the administrative burden would become too much.

“The over-professionalization of the private sponsorship program is a very real concern,” said Kaylee Perez, chair of the national association, adding that it’s working with immigration to make the assessment “less bureaucratic in nature and better aligned with the community-based, volunteer spirit of the program.”

At Mennonite Central Committee Canada, an established SAH, the new requirements would have relatively less impact because it has 14 full-time equivalent staff in five provinces and the infrastructure in place to support the program.

Still, the Mennonite group and all other SAHs have had to improve record-keeping to ensure they have all needed documents and receipts, let alone fork out as much as $10,000 for an audit by an accounting firm.

“In many sponsorships, the people who are doing the direct support tend to be family members,” said Brian Dyck, the Mennonite committee’s national resettlement co-ordinator. “You don’t keep receipts for family members. A lot of SAHs have found that they’ve had to take over the management of the finances” from constituent groups, he said.

“We’re doing a lot more than we used to. This is a program integrity exercise and that’s an important thing for me, too, but the question is, ‘Do we have the resources to do that and if we don’t, where do they come from?’”

Dyck said each file over the course of the one-year sponsorship requires an average 35 hours of staff time, from outreach to training of constituent groups, getting the forms right, collecting documentation, planning and monitoring. Existing SAHs are unlikely to be able to fill the gaps if others drop out.

Alex Hauschildt, operations director of the Anglican United Refugee Alliance, said each SAH does its best for sponsored refugees, and the new rules help ensure quality and consistent support.

“A lot of SAHs think that they don’t have the capacity to do everything that’s needed. This is what the balance of this whole thing is. You’re weighing the capacity to do good work and trying to find that balance from every lens,” said Hauschildt.

“If it is important to you, you have to find a way of doing it. If you were doing 100 so-so applications, maybe you should be doing 25 excellent applications,” he added. “There are definitely growing pains we all have to go through and figure out.”

Source: Why some groups are quitting Canada’s popular refugee sponsorship program

Dutch government backtracks on migrant family reunions

Of note:

The Dutch government on Wednesday backtracked on restrictions that it placed last year on family members joining asylum-seekers who are granted residency in the Netherlands, after courts ruled the move was unlawful.

State Secretary for Justice and Security Eric van der Burg said in a letter to parliament that he expects other courts to follow suit “as a result of which the useful effect of the measure is temporarily absent.”

Van der Burg said he is temporarily suspending the family reunion restrictions pending a definitive ruling by a Dutch administrative court.

The justice ministry introduced the restrictions last year as part of a raft of measures aimed at reining in the high numbers of migrants arriving in the Netherlands that led to a housing crisis and overcrowding at asylum-seeker centers.

The problems came to a head in the summer when hundreds of people were forced to sleep outdoors in unsanitary conditions outside the country’s main migrant reception center in the northern village of Ter Apel.

The conditions at the camp were so bad that the Dutch branch of humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders sent a team to tend to the migrants, the first time the agency had deployed in the Netherlands.

In an attempt to ease the overcrowding, the government in late August announced measures including a move to temporarily rein in family reunions until migrants are permanently housed, provide more housing for people whose asylum requests are honored and process and repatriate people quicker from countries that are considered safe.

But a number of courts have since ruled that such family reunions can go ahead.

The Dutch council for Refugees has been highly critical of the policy, calling for it to be scrapped and labeling it “politics at its most ugly.”

Source: Dutch government backtracks on migrant family reunions

Here’s how Syrian refugees who came to Canada say they’re doing — seven years later

Encouraging study:

Seven years after Canada opened its doors to Syrian refugees, that first cohort of newcomers say they feel good about their new lives, have remained friends with their sponsors and are hopeful for a better future.

However, many still struggle with finding gainful employment, according to a two-year research project by the Environics Institute.

For the newcomers and Canadians, the time between 2015 and 2016 was a defining moment of their lives and in this country’s history, as communities banded together and welcomed 25,000 Syrians within months during a national resettlement project.

“It was a feel-good thing. These people were coming over to Canada from a crisis. We were giving them a home. The government and private citizens were stepping up. They were settling in,” says Keith Neuman, research director of the study released Saturday.

“It was something that made a lot of Canadians feel good about their country, if you will. It’s kind of faded now in memory, but it hasn’t really soured.”

Researchers interviewed 305 Syrian refugees who came during that period about their lived experience and where they are today, seven years later. Participants, who responded to a callout, answered 125 questions in Arabic, English or French during in-depth interviews.

Almost nine in 10 described their current life in Canada in positive light, most particularly feeling safe and secure and being accepted by their local community in spite of different degrees of financial insecurity and challenges with employment.

While many said they appreciated the country’s rule of law and respect for human rights, the things they liked least in Canada included: the harsh weather (32 per cent), the initial challenges in adapting to a new culture and lifestyle (19 per cent), and being separated from families and friends (14 per cent).

An overwhelming 93 per cent of respondents said moving to Canada was the right thing to do, though six per cent expressed mixed feelings about the decision, while the remainder expressed clear regret or did not respond to the question.

“Canada is not a perfect country, but it’s a good country,” one participant told researchers. “You can do what you want in life; but you need to work hard, like anywhere, but here you have the tools for success.”

“I felt something I never felt back home. You’re free,” another was quoted as saying in the report. “Back in Syria, I had to iron my husband’s shirt every day, since I landed here, I never ironed a shirt once! People are all the same, there is no separation of classes.”

Although few arrived with a functional fluency in English or French, more than 60 per cent of those surveyed now rated their language fluency as excellent or good.

Half of the refugees interviewed were currently working, including three per cent reporting to be doing multiple jobs and seven per cent who were self-employed. Fifty-one per cent said their jobs fully or somewhat matched their past education, skills and experience.

Most people were employed in transportation, warehousing, retail, construction and accommodation and food services. Some were in professional, scientific and technical services.

Fourteen per cent of respondents reported their household income was “good enough and they were able to save from it,” while 63 per cent indicated it was “just enough.” The remaining quarter said they felt stretched or were having a rough time.

More than half of the survey participants said they feel a very strong sense of belonging to Canada, with most of the rest describing it as somewhat strong (35 per cent).

Those who were privately sponsored by community organizations and church groups have developed enduring relationships with their supporters, with three quarters of those surveyed saying they remain in touch years later.

Among the many aspirations of the Syrian immigrants were: owning a home (42 per cent); completing more education and training to improve their lives (39 per cent); sponsoring other family members to Canada (24 per cent) and ensuring their children finish higher education (22 per cent).

Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement project was unique and there have been many takeaways for similar operations in the future, says Jobran Khanji, the research project’s community outreach lead.

“Different governments mobilized. Community agencies mobilized and the civic society mobilized. Your average Canadians came together in a crisis situation within weeks and months to support the families who were the first to arrive in Canada,” said Khanji, himself a Syrian immigrant from Damascus.

“It’s a great demonstration of what can be done when everybody mobilizes.”

Nabiha Atallah of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia said she was not surprised by the survey findings but said she was encouraged most Syrians felt welcomed and that they belonged.

Nova Scotia welcomed about 1,500 of the Syrian refugees. Most of them were among the most vulnerable, with many children, sponsored by the government. Yet, they were eager to start working right away.

“It has taken the five or six years. Language is not an easy thing to learn as an adult when some of the people did not even have much of formal education,” Atallah said.

“One of the important things of this report is for the community to see that their response was really effective, because we see that most of the people in this study said they felt they belong and they’re part of the community. That’s great confirmation for the general population.”

Chris Friesen of Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says the report was reflective of the experience of the clients served in the province that resettled more than 3,000 Syrians.

It’s important to track the well-being of the Syrians over time to identify areas of needs and take those lessons to other humanitarian operations, he said.

“We’ve really taken some of the approaches and experiences in Operation Syrian refugees forward,” said Friesen, referring to the resettlement of displaced Afghans and Ukrainians. “That’s encouraging. We’re not repeating it, but we’re building upon it.”

Source: Here’s how Syrian refugees who came to Canada say they’re doing — seven years later

Link to report: Final Report

Federal changes could make it impossible for private groups to sponsor refugees, say faith leaders

Really hard to know what the specific issues are from this op-ed:

Last year, footage of Afghans desperately clinging to departing planes following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan shocked the world. The images told a clear story: those holding onto the plane were so desperate to escape they would risk their lives. Since then, conflicts have escalated across the world, leading to the highest number of refugees in years, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees. The need to welcome refugees has never been greater.

On Vancouver Island, a wide variety of people have worked together to offer a haven to refugees and protect the persecuted. As faith leaders, we have watched worshippers, communities, and student groups come together to sponsor and welcome refugees to this part of the world.

The work of bringing a family to safety brings people together regardless of faith or race. The bonds that are created over the sponsorship process can last decades and are transformative for all involved. Those who come here as refugees begin to build a new life and are welcomed by a community invested in their success and happiness. It’s a win-win.

Organizations like the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia have been involved in privately sponsoring refugees from dozens of countries – including Ethiopia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – through the federal government’s Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) program. The program allows for a certain number of refugees to be sponsored by organizations every year and places significant legal and financial liability on agreement holders, who must cover basic needs and support such as housing for a period of one year.

But upcoming changes to the program means that many groups may no longer be able to undertake this work. The federal government is implementing significant administrative requirements that will cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars, making sponsorship financially unfeasible.

For the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, the largest SAH on Vancouver Island, these new costs are too onerous to bear. The diocese looks forward to honouring its commitments over the next few years to those whose applications have already submitted, and will be welcoming another 290 people – about half of whom will be children – to Vancouver Island. However, the diocese cannot responsibly submit any further applications under the new requirements and will allow our agreement to expire when the term is up.

For the diocese, the decision was not an easy one to make, but it can no longer afford to continue this work. Apart from raising millions in sponsorship dollars, the diocese itself contributes more than $150,000 a year to cover the administrative burden of this work. The new requirements will increase that burden and are a step too far for an already-stretched organization.

Our communities love this work. It matters. But as the federal government continues to make announcements about welcoming refugees, the reality is that much of the work is downloaded onto community and faith groups like ours.

Despite the diocese’s impeccable track record of navigating the system, raising money to sponsor refugee families, and ensuring support for these families for their first year in Canada, they are being asked by the government to do even more, without any funding and minimal support.

The work of welcoming refugees to Canada, setting up apartments, registering kids for school and ESL classes, and helping people feel at home in a new country is work that volunteers can and will continue to do. But the administrative work required by the government, in the form of expensive financial audits and forms, is too much to ask of volunteers.

As people of faith, people who are committed to providing a haven to the persecuted, we will continue to do what we can. But the government should make it easier – not harder – for us to do this work. Imposing administrative burdens on volunteers that are too heavy to bear will mean fewer refugees making Canada their home, families will remain apart, and religious institutions like ours will struggle to stay involved in this work.

We each lead congregations of people looking to build a better world. For our worshippers, just like for so many Vancouver Islanders, part of that work is welcoming refugees. We will continue to find a way to do this work because we do it well. We just want the government to help – not to hinder.

Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee is the Anglican Bishop for the Diocese of British Columbia. Rabbi Harry Brechner leads Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria. Imam Zoheir Tahar is a leader with the Muslim Community of Vancouver Island

Source: Federal changes could make it impossible for private groups to sponsor refugees, say faith leaders

Refugee children don’t place significant demands on health care: Ontario data

Of note. No surprise the differences between private and government sponsored:
Refugee children and youth do not place substantial demands on the health-care system in Ontario when compared with their Canadian-born peers, new research indicates.
A study led by SickKids hospital in Toronto and non-profit research institute ICES compared 23,287 resettled refugees to 93,148 Ontario-born children and youth aged under 17 from 2008 to 2018.

Source: Refugee children don’t place significant demands on health care: Ontario data

USA: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Balance between speed/efficiency and fairness, there are trade-offs:

Fast-tracked immigration cases appear to be hurting migrants’ chances of being granted asylum, researchers are finding.

“The big takeaway message is that the Biden administration really is trying to speed up cases but data shows when you speed up cases they lose,” Syracuse University professor and researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report as he toured the South Texas border on Wednesday.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, orTRAC, one of the nation’s leading researchers on immigration court cases, on Tuesday released a study that found that since July, asylum grant rates have fallen and it “coincides with the extremely rapid increase in expedited cases.”

Although Fiscal Year 2022 had the largest number of individuals granted asylum of any year in immigration court history, in digging into the data, researchers found that the quicker the cases went through the courts, the lower the asylum seekers’ chances.

TRAC found that when asylum cases were completed within three to 18 months, only 31% of cases were granted asylum.

“More asylum cases were granted last year than any other year but the grant rate is actually going down in recent months,” Kocher said.

(TRAC Graphic)

Border Report met up with Kocher on Wednesday as he was on day 5 of his visit to South Texas as part of a seven-week research tour of the entire Southwest border.

He said immigration cases require collecting massive amounts of evidence and documents, and TRAC data has found that migrants who retain lawyers have a higher chance of being granted asylum. He said the rushed cases could be limiting and preventing asylum-seekers from gathering all the data they need to present full cases to the judges, and it could be preventing them from getting legal counsel altogether.

“We definitely know that the Biden administration has tried to accelerate these cases to try to clear out the backlog,” Kocher said. “They really are taking the backlog seriously and they really do want asylum cases to get decided more quickly but the problem is, as the data shows, that if you really speed cases up individuals don’t always have time to get attorneys and they don’t always have time to gather the full application materials that are necessary.”

Kocher crossed into Reynosa, Mexico, early Wednesday, and said he spoke with several migrants there who expressed their lack of resources and lack of legal aid as they wait across the border due to Title 42 restrictions.

Source: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

Of note – quoted:

A group of advocates is urging the federal government to remove the limit on applications to sponsor certain Afghan refugees in Canada – or at least stop counting rejected applications towards it.

The government introduced a new program last month to allow Canadian individuals and organizations to privately sponsor up to 3,000 Afghan refugees who don’t have refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency or a foreign state.

It said it will accept sponsorship applications under the new program until Oct. 17, 2023, or once it has received applications for 3,000 refugees – whichever comes first.

In a letter sent to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last week, a volunteer with Northern Lights Canada, a non-profit that’s been helping Afghan refugees in Toronto, said the new program’s cap is “highly prejudicial,” compared to the accommodations made for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.

“Minister Fraser, I urge you to reconsider the design of the Afghan special program,” Heather Finley wrote in her letter dated Oct. 22.

“By raising the applicant quota and removing rejected applications from it, you will allow a more fair and equitable opportunity for Afghans in Canada to sponsor their families to join them here.”

Stephen Watt, co-founder of Northern Lights Canada, said the new program doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of Afghan refugees and their families and friends in Canada.

“Just having 3,000 spots in a crisis where millions of people are very recently displaced. It is insulting,” he said in an interview.

Almost 109,000 Ukrainians arrived to Canada between Jan. 1 and Oct. 23 under special programs the government introduced to help unlimited numbers of Ukrainians and their family members flee the war in Ukraine to safety.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has committed to resettling a total of 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August of last year, with fewer than 23,000 having arrived in Canada so far.

Immigration Department spokeswoman Isabelle Dubois said the program that has allowed Ukrainians to come to Canada is using the department’s existing temporary resident visa processes, networks and infrastructure to bring as many of them as quickly as possible.

“This is not a refugee program, as compared to our Afghanistan refugee resettlement program, since Ukrainians have indicated that they need temporary safe harbour,” she said.

“Many of them intend to return to their home country when it will be safe to do so.”

Dubois said the government provided 3,000 additional spaces for organizations wanting to sponsor Afghan refugees in addition to the 3,000 spaces under the new special program.

“We are also processing existing and new private sponsorship applications for up to 7,000 Afghan refugees,” she said.

Watt said the new program’s application system crashed shortly after the government opened it at midnight on Oct. 17 due to many people rushing to submit applications.

He said many will likely end up rejected on a technicality because the government said it will process only the first 3,000 applicants and thus sponsors had to raise funds and write their sponsorship applications quickly.

“It’s so disappointing,” he said.

“This announcement that whether (the applications) are good or bad, we’re still going to count them towards the total. So, what that did was create this condition where people were frantically rushing to put together applications.”

Dubois confirmed the government will count all completed applications towards the new program’s 3,000 limit and said the department is currently reviewing the received applications to determine whether it reached that cap.

“We understand some clients experienced issues when submitting an application. No applications were lost as files were automatically backed up,” Dubois said.

“Applications are reviewed on a first-in, first-out basis to determine their completeness. We will continue to send out acknowledgments of receipt for applications that are determined to be complete and accepted into processing.”

Watt said the government should remove the cap on how many Afghan refugees can be privately sponsored for one year to allow people to work on the sponsorship applications – which he said can take months to put together because the requirements are so stringent and excessive.

“If you had a family of seven that may be $70,000 you have to get together. You have to get all the sponsorship documents lined up. You have to write the application,” he said.

“Filling out PDFs perfectly in perfect English when you’reanew Canadian, and having to having to rise to the challenge of these applications which are very demanding even for people who are completely fluent in English and have great use of computer skills.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director at the federal Immigration Department, said he is not aware of any government immigration or refugee program that counted rejected application towards the target other than the new special program for Afghan refugees.

He said many have been criticizing the government for apparently prioritizing Ukrainian refugees over Afghan refugees.

“The situations for both sets of refugees are dire in many cases,” he said. “I’m not (trying to) apply any value statements on that, but it does highlight another discrepancy between the two groups of refugees in my view.”

Griffith said it’s true that the Ukrainians are formally coming to Canada on temporary visas, but many of them may end up staying here.

“Realistically, how many of the people accepted from Ukraine will go back?” he said. “I think most of them would probably like to go. I don’t deny that. But it depends on the situation.”

Source: Advocates urge Ottawa to remove quota on Afghan refugee sponsorship program

Japan has taken in hundreds of Ukrainians. The welcome for others has been less warm

Of note:

A dozen Ukrainian students sit in a classroom, studying basic Japanese to help them navigate life in a new country. Among them is Sergei Litvinov, a 29-year-old trained chef, who arrived in June. He says he’s been listening to Japanese rock music since his teen years.

Coming to Japan is “a dream come true,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m not happy, because it’s a terrible story in Ukraine.”

Litvinov is one of nearly 2,000 Ukrainians admitted to Japan on a temporary basis since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, according to Japan’s justice ministry.

The Ukrainians have been met with an outpouring of sympathy and hospitality in the country. “It was the first time I’ve gotten so many phone calls and emails from society, wanting to assist the refugees from Ukraine,” says Kazuko Fushimi, who handles public relations at the Tokyo-based Japan Association for Refugees.

But the warm welcome Japan has given the Ukrainians contrasts with how it has treated other foreigners fleeing conflict and persecution over the years, say human rights groups. Of 169 Afghans who fled to Japan after the Taliban took over in August 2021, 58 went back to Afghanistan “due to what they say was pressure and a lack of support from the Japanese Foreign Ministry,” Japan’s Kyodo news service reported last month.

For now, the Japanese government has given the Ukrainians residency and work permits lasting up to a year. But for those from other countries, it’s often a years-long struggle to attain similar benefits and privileges.

The central government has provided visas and work permits. Local governments have provided food, housing and living allowances.

Litvinov is one of a group of 70 Ukrainians sent to the port city of Yokohama – 17 miles from the Japanese capital Tokyo — where local authorities are providing for temporary accommodation, food and living expenses.

Significantly, Japan is not calling the Ukrainians refugees, but “evacuees.” That is because Tokyo expects them all to go home eventually.

Historically, Japan accepts very few refugees. Last year, it granted just 74 applicants refugee status — the highest number ever, but less than 1% of the total who applied, according to the Japan Association for Refugees.

Some in Japan see their country as mono-ethnic — not a nation of immigrants. But the idea is a matter of debate.

Human rights groups and refugee advocates say the system is deliberately designed to set a high bar for successful refugee applications. Refugees applying for asylum in Japan must demonstrate they face life-threatening persecution at home.

Heydar Safari Diman has been trying to do just that for more than 30 years, since fleeing from Iran to Japan, which he became interested in through watching TV dramas and movies, including the films of director Akira Kurosawa. He does not want to say exactly what persecution he faced in Iran, because he fears it could jeopardize family members still in the country.

But authorities have repeatedly rejected his bids for refugee status. They detained him for a total of more than four years without any explanation, he says, in what he calls hellish conditions.

“I like Japan and Japanese people, but I hate the ones in the detention center,” he says, speaking fluent Japanese. “How could they bully us like that? What did we do? We are refugees. I have no criminal record.”

In 2019, Safari Diman was one of about 100 detainees who went on hunger strikes to protest their detention. Safari Diman says he sank into deep depression and thought about ending his own life.

“You need a lot of courage to commit suicide. It’s very difficult to kill yourself in there. And I did not have that courage,” he says.

Tokyo-based attorney Chie Komai, who represents Safari Diman and others seeking to stay in Japan, took his case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2019. She argued that her client’s detention was arbitrary because Japanese immigration authorities can detain foreigners indefinitely, without any judicial review.

The U.N. working group agreed with her. “They made it clear that the Japanese immigration detention system is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The Japanese government objected to the U.N. working group’s findings, saying they were “based on factual errors” and disputing that its detentions were arbitrary. But it did not dispute the details of Safari Diman’s case. He is now out on what is called “provisional release,” and has not been detained since the ruling.

Safari Diman, who’s subsisted in Japan on donations from friends and supporters, says he does not expect the sort of benefits the Ukrainians are getting.

“I’m not asking for Japanese taxpayers to support me,” he says. “If authorities recognize me as a refugee, I will work and pay taxes.”

Other cases have also fueled debate over Japan’s treatment of refugees. They include the death in an immigration detention center last year of 33-year-old Sri Lankan Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, detained for overstaying her visa.

Prosecutors dropped charges against immigration officials accused of responsibility for her death.

In another case, last month a Japanese court ordered the government to compensate the family of a 43-year-old Cameroonian man who died in an immigration detention center in 2014.

The public outcry over deaths in immigration detention centers appears to have prompted the government to drop controversial amendments to immigration laws. The amendments would have made it easier for the government to deportforeigners whose bids for refugee status had failed.

Japan’s government says it will extend financial assistance to the Ukrainians for an additional six months. The double standard is not lost on officials like Kazuhiro Suzuki, a Yokohama city official who is involved in running the program for Ukrainians.

“We’ve only been supporting the Ukrainian evacuees,” he says, observing the students from a corner of the classroom. “While the situation of refugees from other countries hasn’t changed.”

He adds: “Every day we keep working, but this discrepancy bothers us.”

Source: Japan has taken in hundreds of Ukrainians. The welcome for others has been less warm