The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees

Of note (not unique to USA as contrasting Canada’s previous firm policies in terms of access to work permits, healthcare and settlement services to Ukrainian temporary residents under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program compared to Afghans and others illustrates:

Last summer, anti-immigration advocates mobilized in opposition to the resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in the United States. “It threatens the national security of the United States,” wroteStephen Miller, the former top Donald Trump adviser. Miller charged in another tweet that President Joe Biden had “cruelly betrayed his oath of office” by expediting the entry of Afghans fleeing the Taliban without, Miller said, proper vetting. A prominent immigration-restrictionist group issued a report warning of fraud and abuse in the nation’s refugee programs, and immigration hard-liners flooded conservative airwaves throughout the fall to denounce the administration’s plans.

Then came another refugee crisis, this time in Ukraine. In March, Biden said the U.S. would admit up to 100,000 of the millions of Ukrainians who had left their country after the Russian invasion. The announcement was sure to provoke the outrage of the nation’s most ardent immigration foes, whose cries about an influx of refugees from a war-stricken region had barely faded from the news.

Except it didn’t.

Anti-immigration advocates have been far quieter about the Biden administration’s policy toward Ukrainian refugees than they were about its stance toward Afghan refugees. What’s more, the criticism they have leveled has had almost nothing to do with concerns about vetting or national security. Miller, for example, tweeted dozens of dire warnings about Afghan refugees during the summer and fall of 2021. He has also tweeted frequently about Ukraine since the crisis escalated at the beginning of this year, but not a single time about Biden’s plan to accept 100,000 refugees. (Through a spokesperson, he declined an interview request.)

To the groups who resettle refugees in the U.S., the divergent responses from the political right are a stark but familiar example of the long-standing bias against immigrants from poor or predominantly Muslim countries in favor of those from Europe, who are predominantly white. Those attitudes are also reflected in—and might contribute to—public opinion about America’s refugee policy. In a poll conducted last month for The Atlantic by Leger, 58 percent of respondents supported the U.S. accepting refugees from Ukraine, while just 46 percent backed admitting those from Afghanistan. Asked whether the U.S. should admit more refugees from one country than the other, 23 percent of respondents said the U.S. should take more people from Ukraine, while just 4 percent said the U.S. should accept more from Afghanistan, despite America’s two-decade involvement in the war there. Gallup found even broader support for admitting Ukrainian refugees, the highest for any refugee group it has polled about since 1939.

“Americans get a certain amount of compassion fatigue for certain parts of the world that are chronically in turmoil, and no American alive today can ever remember a time of peace in the Middle East,” Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that seeks a reduction in overall immigration to the U.S., told me. “It’s also true that Ukraine has not been viewed routinely as a source of refugees, of political conflict, at least not in the modern world.”

Senior officials with refugee-resettlement groups told me that they haven’t put much stock into the reaction of immigration hard-liners, because Republican governors and leaders in Congress have remained broadly supportive of accepting Afghan refugees. But they have sharply criticized the Biden administration for what they say is unequal treatment of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. “It certainly appears that Ukrainians are receiving special treatment,” Adam Bates, a policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, told me.

Under its Uniting With Ukraine program, the Biden administration is waiving all fees associated with applying for humanitarian parole. By contrast, IRAP says, the U.S. government charged more than 40,000 applicants from Afghanistan as much as $575 to seek similar protection last summer. The government is also scrapping requirements that Ukrainians submit evidence that they were specifically targeted by the Russian military or President Vladimir Putin, whereas Afghan applicants must provide proof of individualized, targeted violence against them by the Taliban.

The White House declined to comment. The administration has touted its evacuation of more than 82,000 Afghans to the U.S., including many allies who helped the U.S. military during its 20-year war. In both crises, the government has sought to route many applicants around the official refugee and special-immigrant visa programs because they are so backlogged. Officials have said that the humanitarian parole that the U.S. is offering to Ukrainians lasts for only two years, which Bates took as a suggestion that the government assumes many refugees will want to stay in the country only temporarily. I asked him what he thought was the real reason the Biden administration was expediting the process for Ukrainians in ways it did not for Afghans. “This is just speculating,” he cautioned in his reply. “But to me, I do not think that the influence of systemic racism and xenophobia in this country has been limited to just one party in the context of immigration.”

The politics of immigration have bedeviled Biden from his first days in office. Republicans have accused him of countenancing a veritable invasion of the southern border by migrants and asylum seekers, while progressives criticized his decision to keep in place some Trump-administration policies reviled by immigrant advocates. Biden’s critics on the right say his lax handling of the southern border has left the country stretched too thin to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine. “The problem is that resettling refugees takes work and money and infrastructure, which has been overwhelmed by all the illegal aliens who were using asylum as a gambit to get past the Border Patrol,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies, told me.

Many others, however, say the U.S. has both the moral obligation and the capacity to open its doors to those fleeing war and persecution.

Conservatives who have raised alarms about resettling Afghan refugees say the need to vet them is stronger because the American invasion created enemies who could try to sneak into the U.S. to exact revenge. They’ve also warned about the cultural differences between Afghanistan and the U.S., highlighting reports of child trafficking by male evacuees who claim young girls as their brides.

Krikorian has assailed the nation’s refugee policy across the board and told me the U.S. could do more good simply by sending money overseas to help resettle evacuees in countries closer to their homeland. But he had harsher words for the Biden administration’s pledge to admit refugees from Ukraine. “We clearly have more obligation to Afghans than we do to Ukrainians,” Krikorian said. At the same time, he said, individual Afghan refugees presented bigger security and cultural concerns than did Ukrainians. As an example, Krikorian referenced reports of widespread sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Afghan security forces made by members of the U.S. military during the war. “I wouldn’t say because of that, we don’t take Afghans, but we do take Ukrainians,” he said. “But in individual cases, in doing vetting and assessing whether it’s a good idea to bring somebody into the United States, we definitely should take that into consideration.”

Those reports and the stereotypes they feed may help explain why the public voices stronger support for refugees from Ukraine than from Afghanistan, and, on some level, why the government has treated them differently. But to those who work on behalf of refugees, they are beside the point. “Of course, we need to vet immigrants who are coming into the U.S. to make sure that they are not a threat to the American public. But we need to do that consistently,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told me. “Both populations have strong rationales for seeking refuge here in the U.S. We shouldn’t pit one population against the other.”

Source: The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees

Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

Of note:
Canada’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war has been distinctly different to those fleeing other humanitarian crises, the House of Commons immigration committee said Wednesday, and MPs want that to change.
The committee voted Tuesday to issue a public statement, urging the government to provide the same special immigration measures it extended to Ukrainians to refugees from other regions.The statement reads that “time is of the essence,” and said the committee calls on the immigration minister to ensure Canada’s response to humanitarian crises in other regions “are treated with the same vigor as Ukraine.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Ukraine and created an extraordinary program to allow Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years while they decide their next steps.

The program does not apply to non-Ukrainians who fled the country.

Canada has received 112,000 applications from people fleeing Ukraine and has so far approved more than 26,500, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday.

The MPs on the committee say the measures should also be available to Afghans who are still in their Taliban-controlled home country, and refugees from other regions facing humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Myanmar and China.Fraser didn’t address the committee’s request in his press conference, but did say Canada remains “extremely committed” to helping people escape Afghanistan.

Canada has so far welcomed 10,025 Afghans since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Fraser said refugee resettlement efforts, including initiatives in Afghanistan and Syria, can take years to implement and must be accounted for in the government’s annual immigration-level targets tabled in Parliament.

Meanwhile, consultations with the Ukrainian community reveal many wish only to come to Canada temporarily and then return home when it is safe“We will continue to look at more ways that Canada can settle refugees, complementary to our resettlement efforts,” spokeswoman Aidan Strickland said in a statement. “Each situation is unique and should be considered as such to ensure that Canada is responding accordingly.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi applauded Canada’s actions to bring Ukrainians to a safe haven, but also reminded government officials of other refugee crises.

In February, before Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, the UN refugee agency counted about 84 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.

“Since then, that number has probably grown to well over 90 million. We must be in the region of 95 million now,” Grandi said at the press conference with Fraser.

Grandi was in Ottawa Wednesday to announce a new global task force, chaired by Canada, aimed at finding other ways to bring refugees to safe countries.

The initiative builds on a Canadian pilot program to allow skilled refugees to apply for permanent residency through economic channels. The idea is to bring additional refugees to the country, in addition to those welcomed through humanitarian processes.

The pilot removed some of the barriers that would traditionally have precluded refugees from applying for permanent residency in Canada through economic channels.

It was expanded late last year to accommodate 500 skilled refugees, and Fraser says he hopes to see even more welcomed under the program in the future.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan says the idea behind the pilot program is great, but she has noted some issues with the execution. For example, the program is supposed to include a loan option to allow refugees to meet the economic requirements to support themselves when they come to Canada, but that loan is not yet available.

Source: Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

And a good op-ed by Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl:

It is hard to rationalize the strikingly different approaches the Canadian government has taken to two major refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

There have been benefits offered to Ukrainians looking to escape the Russian invasion, but not to Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s takeover, including authorization for emergency travel to enter Canada on a temporary basis with open work permits for up to three years. In addition, the government has promised to develop a family-reunification sponsorship program for both immediate and extended-family members.

There have also been benefits offered to Afghans, but not to Ukrainians, such as special programs for arrival as refugees with permanent residence and entitlement to all associated supports and services.

Certainly, the specific context of a refugee crisis can necessitate unique policy responses. But a common framework should be in place to provide similar support for individuals in crisis, with differences in treatment only where demonstrably justified.

The Canadian government has said that the “temporary residence” approach is justified by the assumption that most Ukrainians will return home. The reality, however, is that many Ukrainian refugees who choose to come to Canada can be expected to stay. No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last, what the outcome will be, how much destruction will occur and whether or when it will be possible for individuals to return. The large Ukrainian community in Canada provides an added incentive to stay.

Indeed, an example from the past may foreshadow future decisions of Ukrainians coming to Canada. In response to the crisis in Kosovo in 1999, Ottawa initiated emergency airlifts of Kosovars on the expectation that many would return home as soon as the situation abroad was resolved. They were provided with permanent residence to entitle them to supports and services while in Canada. Kosovars were also offered transportation to return home and funding to re-establish themselves there. Despite these incentives to return, and the absence of a significant Kosovar community in Canada, only 30 per cent did so.

It would therefore be well worth providing supports and services that meet the needs of new Ukrainian arrivals. Many people fleeing Ukraine are women with small children, so even with open work permits, they may not start work immediately, and many won’t be able to earn enough money to support the needs of the family. Support from the community will be invaluable in many cases, but it cannot be expected to carry the full load.

Although the federal government has announced that Ukrainians arriving as temporary residents will have access to national settlement services, they are not eligible for federal income support or interim health coverage normally provided to refugees, leaving it up to individual provinces to decide on access to health care, schools and income support.

Afghans, for their part, need emergency travel authorization and reunification of extended-family members. Such measures would help to compensate for the fact that the implementation of the two special programs for Afghan refugees has been slow and rife with problems, and that private-sponsorship applications remain blocked.

Many Afghans are at greatly increased risk from having helped Canada in Afghanistan, and many have fled to neighbouring countries that don’t want them and are unable or unwilling to provide support. Ukrainians are in a horrendous situation, but they are at least being welcomed by EU countries who want and are able to help them. Some Afghans were airlifted to Ukraine from Afghanistan. Yet, even these Afghan refugees are not entitled to Canada’s new policies, which are available only to Ukrainian nationals.

We see no justification for Canada to offer such different treatment to two groups coming to our country at around the same time. Some observers have already begun to wonder if the policy differences have been influenced by race, religion or political benefit, and the lack of limits to the number of Ukrainians being allowed to enter Canada only fuels that argument. The perception is heightened by the fact that crises under way in Africa and elsewhere have gotten no special response at all.

Canada needs a common refugee framework that includes expedited entry and permanent residence, eligibility for supports and services and reunification of extended family members. Fair and equitable responses – for any refugee group – will help people in need of protection to make the transition to a successful life in Canada, no matter how long they choose to stay.

Source: Canada needs a unified approach for people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan

Immigration Experts Contrast US Support for Ukrainian, Afghan Refugees – Voice of America

As elsewhere:

More than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine in the month since Russia’s invasion began. United Nations officials said this kind of exodus has not been seen since World War II. And just as uncommon, some immigration attorneys say, is the quick response from countries welcoming refugees.

Ukrainian refugees are crossing mainly into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. Currently, Poland has taken the majority of refugees. Ukrainians also are trying to reunite with family members in the United States and have even arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border

Given the growing pressure on the Biden administration to find direct paths for displaced Ukrainians to come to the United States, the White House announced Thursday it would welcome as many as 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the eastern European nation.

But is the U.S. accepting Ukrainian refugees differently from Afghan refugees, who similarly fled war in large numbers?

“Absolutely,” said Ally Bolour, an immigration lawyer in California, adding, “I really need to preface by saying that it’s amazing that the U.S. is going to let in supposedly 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.”

But, Bolour said, there is a disparity between the ways the U.S. has welcomed Afghans and Ukrainians, starting with the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation. That program provides legal status in the United States and protection from deportation for up to 18 months. It also provides work permits for people to work legally in the country.

For Ukraine, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced its TPS designation a month after Russia’s invasion.

For Afghanistan, the administration didn’t grant TPS for Afghan refugees living in the United States until about seven months after the U.S. left Afghanistan.

“I’m not criticizing the announcement that Ukrainians are getting in,” Bolour said. “It’s to show the comparison and contrast. It’s just to show that there’s a disparity.”

Humanitarian parole

Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, agreed that the U.S. was quick to announce TPS for Ukrainian refugees but noted that both Ukrainians and Afghans have to go through the normal immigration system.

“And we don’t have a good system for allowing people to come to the United States quickly,” Yale-Loehr said.

Yale-Loehr said that for Afghan refugees, the humanitarian parole process has been overwhelmed by more than 40,000 applicants, many of whom have been waiting for six months for a decision on their cases.

“I don’t see how the administration is going to be able to speed up processing with the expected flood of humanitarian parole applications from Ukrainians. And if the administration does speed it up for Ukrainians, I think there will be legitimate complaints about why they were able to do it for Ukrainians so much more quickly than for Afghans and people from other countries,” Yale-Loehr said.

Humanitarian parole is special permission given to those hoping to enter the United States under emergency circumstances. While it does not automatically lead to permanent residency, parolees can apply for legal status — either through the asylum process or other forms of sponsorship, if available — once they’re in the U.S.

Refugee resettlement is a complex bureaucratic process with strict vetting to determine whom to accept for resettlement.

But with the White House promise to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the Russian invasion, some experts doubt the administration’s ability to process refugees faster than its current pace.

Yale-Loehr said he does not believe the administration will be able to admit anywhere near 100,000 people in the next six months.

“I think it will take a lot longer than people think to get those people here,” he added.

The process, for both Ukrainians and Afghans, begins at the United Nations, when a person is officially designated a refugee.

Once applicants pass the initial U.N. screening, they are referred to the United States. At this point, the refugees have to pass interviews, medical exams and background checks. Getting the green light to travel to the U.S. can take two to five years.

The number of refugees allowed under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was dramatically cut under the Trump administration, leaving fewer resources within the government and resettlement agencies to handle the significant increase of refugee applications and arrivals.

“The refugee resettlement agencies were devastated by the cuts that the Trump administration made. So, they’re not geared up again to be able to handle large flows of refugees yet. And it often takes a year or more for background checks for normal refugee processing. I don’t know how they’re going to speed that up,” Yale-Loehr said.

This fiscal year’s cap for refugee acceptance is 125,000 but only 6,494 refugees were admitted in the first five months mostly because refugee resettlement agencies are straining to support 76,000 Afghan evacuees, who are not counted toward the refugee cap.

Title 42 exemptions

Some Ukrainians have traveled to Mexico to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border where they hope to receive asylum in the United States.

Under current U.S. immigration law, officials at the border are expected to screen those who say they are afraid to go back to their home country because of persecution or ongoing conflict or a significant chance they might be tortured or killed.

But reaching the border does not guarantee immediate access into the U.S. because of the Title 42 guideline, which is a pandemic-related policy that mandates the rapid expulsion of migrants as a public health precaution. However, the Biden administration has agreed to allow U.S. immigration officials to use discretion toward Ukrainians at the border and decide on a case-by-case basis

“They just made an exception for Ukrainians as part of our foreign policy. I don’t think there’s anything in the legal framework that necessarily would have exempted Ukrainians from Title 42. So, I think they just made a foreign policy decision that they were about to let Ukrainians cross but not Russians or Afghans or people from other countries,” Yale-Loehr said.

As reported by the San Diego Tribune, Ukrainians have walked to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum and were allowed entry into the country.

Support from the American public for Ukrainian refugees and Afghan refugees also differs.

In March, a YouGov poll of 1,500 Americans showed that 54% of respondents are in favor of admitting Ukrainian refugees and 25% opposed.

For Afghan refugees, about 42% support welcoming Afghans.

Another poll, from Pew Research Center, showed that Democrats are more supportive of admitting Ukrainian refugees to the U.S. than are Republicans: 80% of Democrats said they supported admitting Ukrainian refugees, while for Republicans, the number was 57%.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA via email the U.S. commitment to Afghan refugees will not “wane as we open our doors to Ukrainians.”

“We are proud to have welcomed more than 75,000 Afghans in the United States since Kabul fell in August 2021. We continue to welcome Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome, including more than 600 who arrived within the past two or so weeks. Our commitment to resettling Afghans – particularly those who served on behalf of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan – remains steadfast,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Source: Immigration Experts Contrast US Support for Ukrainian, Afghan Refugees – Voice of America

Streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a ‘two-tiered,’ ‘racialized’ system, opposition says

Interesting that a Conservative MP, Brad Redekopp, raised the issue, given the party’s close connection to Ukrainian Canadians and that 14 percent of his riding, Saskatoon West, is of Ukrainian ancestry:

Opposition parties says the Liberal government’s streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a two-tiered, racialized system that prioritizes Ukrainian immigrants over refugees from other conflict zones, including Afghanistan.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser appeared before the House of Commons immigration committee Thursday, where he faced questions about the differences between the government’s new special program and its dedicated refugee resettlement initiatives. During the meeting, Conservative committee member Brad Redekopp accused the government of prioritizing Ukrainian immigrants over Afghan refugees.

“Under your watch, it seems like you’ve set up a racialized system, a two-tiered system, where white Europeans come in faster than people from Afghanistan. How do you explain that?” Mr. Redekopp asked the minister.

Mr. Fraser rejected Mr. Redekopp’s claim, saying the situation in Ukraine demands a different response. He noted that Ukrainians can find their way to other Western countries for Canadian processing and biometrics screening more easily than Afghans.

“It has more to do with their ability to leave Ukraine, compared to … those who don’t have that ability to leave Afghanistan, than it does a decision by the federal government to be more kind to one group of people than another,” Mr. Fraser said.

He added that the government opted to offer streamlined immigration measures to Ukrainians, rather than a dedicated refugee program, because European counterparts and the Ukrainian Canadian community have indicated that most Ukrainians who come to Canada will want to eventually return home. This is not the case with people coming from Afghanistan, he said, hence the need for a refugee program.

“With respect to Afghanistan, I wish the circumstances were the same. I don’t have the same hope that it will be safe for the people that we are welcoming permanently as refugees to return home one day, despite their potential desire to do so, and that’s allowed us to create difference responses for the unique circumstances.”

Jenny Kwan, NDP immigration critic, also said the government has made it easier for Ukrainians compared with refugees from other countries. She noted what witnesses have told the committee regarding the discrepancy.

“They all said that they support the special measures for Ukraine, but what they’re concerned about is that it’s not being applied elsewhere. All the witnesses agree that government should extend those special immigration measures to other regions also experiencing conflict, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Hong Kong, et cetera,” Ms. Kwan said during the committee meeting.

Mr. Fraser said he wants to see the impact of the special measures for Ukrainians first before considering any similar streamlined programs.

Last year, the government committed to resettling 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan, and so far more than 9,500 have arrived in Canada since August. Much like the Liberal government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program, Afghan refugees have access to federal services and the Resettlement Assistance Program.

More than 10,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since Jan. 1. Most travelled to Canada under their own devices before the government announced the special immigration measures last week, Mr. Fraser said.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel eliminates most of the normal visa requirements and allows Ukrainians to stay in Canada for up to three years if they pass a background check and security screening. The measures are offered through the immigration stream; as a result, Ukrainians are not considered refugees and will not have access to the same support.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress recently called on the federal government to implement departure and arrival plans to assist Ukrainians with travel to Canada, provide financial support for a transitional period and encourage provincial governments to recruit and sponsor displaced people. The UCC is also urging the government to provide funding for settlement agencies, which could help Ukrainians co-ordinate transport, housing and health care and assist with work permit applications.

The government is in the process of setting up a family reunification program that would allow relatives in Canada to sponsor family members from Ukraine to move here permanently. Details are expected in the coming weeks.

Source: Streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a ‘two-tiered,’ ‘racialized’ system, opposition says

US Special Immigration Program Refers More Than 5,000 Afghan Refugees to Canada – Voice of America

Of note:

The U.S. State Department has referred more than 5,000 Afghan refugees who were seeking admission to the United States to a parallel program in Canada, where waiting times for permanent residence are shorter.

State Department officials confirmed to VOA those referred to the special immigration program are not simultaneously going through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

“We are working with Canada to refer up to 5,000 refugees to Canada, independent of our ongoing efforts for U.S. resettlement,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA.

On the Canadian side, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said Afghan refugees referred by the U.S. are coming to Canada from third countries, where they have been located since they fled Afghanistan.

Masuma Haidari, 37 and a software engineer in Afghanistan, is one of the people benefiting from the partnership between the two countries. She was able to leave Afghanistan in August 2021 and lived in North Macedonia for more than six months.

Private organizations helped her leave Afghanistan and find her way through the program that led her to Canada.

Haidari told VOA she was about to get the keys to her first apartment in Calgary, Canada.

“It’s not bad,” Haidari said. “The government helps us with money and we (must) manage to cover all costs.”

But with her background in software engineering and having worked for the Afghan government, she hopes it will be useful in her new Canadian life.

“I think that the technical experiences will be useful in Canada. I will try to [transfer] my degree, my education and also I will be ready to find a job in the IT industry,” she added.

Though Haidari is able to start a new life, thousands of people are still hoping to leave Afghanistan.

Rescue efforts

U.S. military veterans, former intelligence and defense officials and others have dedicated their time to rescue those still in Afghanistan through newly formed groups like Operation North Star, which is all volunteer, or Task Force Pineapple, which is a public-private partnership.

Getting people out of Afghanistan is just part of the problem.

According to the Operation North Star website, they have almost 500 Afghans in third countries and more than 2,000 Afghans in safe homes in Afghanistan. Equally challenging has been guiding the Afghans through the complex process to resettle in the United States, including finding safe homes, leaving Afghanistan, finding a third country, applying to a refugee program and arriving in a new country.

The U.S. immigration system includes a patchwork of complex laws for regulating the flow of refugees seeking to enter the United States. The U.S. manages a strict vetting process to determine who to accept for resettlement and the process can take two to five years.

Slow U.S. processing is prompting some private groups to look elsewhere for a permanent home for the evacuees, with immigrant-friendly Canada emerging as a favored destination.

So far in Fiscal 2022, which began October 1, 2021, 133 Afghans were admitted into the U.S. through USRAP. In Fiscal 2021, that number was 872. Through the Special Immigrant Visa program, which is for those who served as interpreters and translators or were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government, the U.S. admitted 1,545 refugees in Fiscal 2022.

Jordan Kane, a volunteer at U.S.-based Operation North Star, said it has been difficult to secure U.S. refugee status for Afghans who have been recommended for relocation by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees or a designated NGO. After the referral, it still takes at least two years for applicants to arrive in the United States.

“Thousands of Afghan refugees who had secured limited referrals to the U.S. resettlement process were given an option to be switched over to the Canadian process, with women leaders fleeing Taliban threats receiving preference,” Kane told VOA.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions program was dramatically cut under the Trump administration, leaving fewer resources within the government and the resettlement agencies to handle the significant increase of refugee applications and arrivals.

Resettlement in Canada

Once the U.S. identifies Afghan refugees who meet eligibility and admissibility requirements, they are then accepted for resettlement to Canada.

“As government-assisted refugees, Afghan refugees become permanent residents upon arrival and have access to the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP),” according to Jeffrey MacDonald, communications officer at IRCC.

The Canadian government provides temporary housing and up to 12 months of income support.

“Monthly income support levels for shelter, food and incidentals are guided by provincial or territorial social assistance rates where the refugee resides and vary depending on family size, configuration and city of residence,” MacDonald said in an email to VOA.

One refugee, whose case was transferred to Canada, is identified for security reasons only as “Farishta.” She was a women’s rights activist and prosecutor in the office of the Afghan attorney general.

“The Canadian program under which Farishta is applying is unique,” Kane said. “Like the U.S., Canada has a program for resettling Afghans who worked for them, who are mostly male military interpreters. However, unlike the U.S., Canada also has a program for admitting other groups of Afghans targeted by the Taliban, including female leaders, which is great.”

The Women at Risk Program recognizes the women and girls particularly vulnerable in refugee situations and prioritizes their resettlement to Canada.

“But Canada shouldn’t be the only country looking out for women like Farishta,” Kane said, adding, “the U.S. and other NATO allies need to copy this program to make sure we are not leaving Afghan women behind.”

The Canadian government has committed to accept 40,000 Afghan refugees. Included in that number are the 5,000 people being referred through the partnership with the United States. From August 2021 to March 2022, the country has admitted 8,815 under all available refugee categories.

Canada has a biometric verification process that refugees must complete before they enter Canada, according to Oliver Thorne, who is the executive director at the Vancouver-based Veterans Transition Network.

“Although these are Afghans that risked their lives to support and in many cases, save the lives of Canadian soldiers, our government policy will not allow them into Canada without biometric verification,” Thorne told VOA.

Thorne said the Canadian government policy needs to align with the urgency of these evacuation efforts and allow for biometrics to be done after arrival in Canada.

“Without this, evacuations will proceed at a trickle pace, leaving brave and deserving Afghans at risk of reprisals from the Taliban,” he added.

MacDonald, of the IRCC, responded that the biggest hurdle “is not the processing capacity of the government of Canada, it’s situational and environmental factors on the ground in Afghanistan. These are challenges that we are working on every day, there’s no lack of effort on the part of the government of Canada.”

Nevertheless, the private groups credit Canada for taking in a number of Afghans who might not be eligible for resettlement elsewhere. Most countries are offering visas to a limited number of Afghans who worked directly for them, refugee advocates said.

As for Farishta, she had hoped to resettle in the United States, Kane said.

“The United States was Farishta’s first choice, because she has more friends there, but she considers Canada to be a great option. … Two reasons for this: she, like many educated Afghans, speaks fluent English already. Second, Canada has more generous resettlement benefits than the U.S.,” Kane said

Source: US Special Immigration Program Refers More Than 5,000 Afghan Refugees to Canada – Voice of America

Sears: Ottawa is backsliding on refugees. We cannot return to the contemptible policies of our past

A bit over the top, as he should understand some of the operational and considerations, even officials are overly cautious in their approach.

And fair or not, the Ukraine invasion and refugee flows are more fundamental, in terms of world and Canadian politics, than Afghanistan, where unfortunately all countries failed in getting peoples out quickly.

But of course, more should be done, and more quickly:

Canada’s nakedly racist immigration policies are not ancient history. It was only in the 1970s that they were finally wound down as policy, though the colour blindness of some immigration officials was never believable. The department is currently under investigation for allegations of years of systemic racism.

Canada had a racist screening system that was thinly veiled as “geographic” quotas only 50 years ago. Our quotas in those days permitted 1,000 immigrants per year from Asia — and one hundred times that from Europe. In recent years, we have won a global reputation for the openness and fairness of both our immigration and refugee screening processes. We have the most successful record in the world at immigration integration. But, occasionally some of the old impulses appear to push to the surface again.

The Trudeau government pledged that we would admit 40,000 Afghan refugees after the fall of Kabul last August. In the months since, we have welcomed less than 20 per cent of that pledge. Various bureaucracies have erected their usual obstacles when they are determined to slow walk a policy to failure. First they claimed they could not admit more of the desperate because they did not have screening facilities in Kabul. The EU removed that excuse by offering to share theirs.

The Department of Justice threw sand in the gears, as government lawyers do, saying, “Here’s why you can’t do that legally, minister!” Incredibly, they cited the prohibition on aiding “terrorism” if assistance were given to refugee claimants. It is absurdly transparent nonsense that several more expert Canadian lawyers have laughed at. Global Affairs and Public Safety, two ministries one would have thought had an important role, have been nudged aside by the intransigent foot draggers.

Of course we should open our doors to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible. However, where non-Muslim European refugees are concerned there appear to be different rules.

Ukrainians are being waved through because it is claimed they are “unlikely to stay.” Perhaps. But they will be welcomed into our vast Ukrainian Canadian community, and many may decide to stay. Many will bring skills and experience in high demand by employers. Few will need integration support, except perhaps in acquiring fluency in English or French.

But the stunning difference in political signalling by this government to one refugee community versus another is somewhat stomach turning. There have been half a dozen ministerial visits to Europe to ensure our aid flows in and their refugees can flow out.

The number of Canadian ministers who have gone to Pakistan to help speed up the transport and certification of Afghan refugees since the election? No prizes for guessing — none. The latest excuse for the tragic delay in getting Afghans who put their lives on the line to support Canadian soldiers, diplomats and journalists: “backlog.”

For decades, immigration departments have used the excuse that the years-long wait for refugees and immigrants to be processed is due to backlog. What would the response of a government be if, for example, the CRA said they could not get Canadians their tax reimbursement cheques out in less than 18 months because of backlog?

They would fix it: hire staff, whip the bureaucracy, and demand results or heads on a block. So why do we allow backlog to be the “dog ate my homework” excuse from immigration bureaucrats? Perhaps it’s because governments actually prefer their ability to choke the number of refugees — unless, of course, they’re from a country where millions of Canadian voters have roots and are demanding action.

So let us return to the days when ministers greeted refugees from war-torn hells at the airport, no matter which war had torn their lives apart. Let there not be even a scintilla of suspicion that we are sliding back to the contemptible refugee policy that we are so proud of having erased two generations ago.

Or we will wake up one morning to the news that the Taliban have murdered yet another Canada-bound refugee — one whose luck ran out after months of waiting for the silence from the immigration bureaucracy to finally end.

Source: Ottawa is backsliding on refugees. We cannot return to the contemptible policies of our past

Wagner: Work permit change urged for Afghans now needed for Ukrainians to come to Canada

More pressures:

Many thousands are leaving Ukraine with heartbreaking separations from spouses, parents and homes. Meanwhile, in Canada, a single change to work permits can support people in far larger numbers to come here after being forced from their homes. That change is waiving a rule that requires someone to prove they can leave Canada again.

All applicants to temporary visas must demonstrate their ability and willingness to leave Canada by showing they have somewhere else to go, even if they already applied for permanent residence, or intend to.

This is an old rule that predates Canada’s goal of retaining its international workforce, once they arrive, through permanent residence programs. If it’s arcane for others, it’s absurd and prohibitive for those in refugee circumstances.

Among the Afghans who left as the Taliban took power in August were lawyers, cooks, electricians, and software developers — skills needed across Canada — yet so many are in a humanitarian queue instead of here on work permits. The same barrier faces Ukrainians.

In effect, Canada’s largest immigration option is closed as soon as someone needs it most. In 2019, before the pandemic, Canada welcomed over 404,000 people on work permits, many of whom go on to become permanent residents. For comparison, the refugee resettlement target the same year was 46,450.

blob:https://multiculturalmeanderings.wordpress.com/27e4c896-162d-472c-8c0f-cf96eb3fe425

Only recently has the idea of using skilled immigration as an additional option to refugee resettlement gained traction globally and in Canada. Canada first launched the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot in 2018 as a test to help people in refugee circumstances, who got job offers in Canada, to work through barriers, such as needing a valid passport and police certificates, which are impossible for many in displacement to get.

The test cases were a runaway success. But for all the pilot’s innovation, its main drawback is significant. The flexibility introduced, like accepting expired passports, only applies to permanent residence pathways and not to work permits and the barriers that come with them.

This disadvantages displaced talent for two main reasons: A lack of speed and space. Skilled immigration largely relies on a job offer and most employers can’t hire someone on a permanent residence timeline, which is eight months or longer. And only a portion of skilled immigration space is left open when work permits are off the table.

We analyzed 66 permanent residence pathways and found just 15 are free of a requirement for in-Canada work experience or points systems that reward it. In other words, 77 per cent of these pathways are either inaccessible by or disadvantageous to displaced applicants who can‘t access work permits.

Many people displaced by conflict have in-demand skills and, despite the timeline, incredible Canadian teams are already hiring and relocating them. More companies want to. We need to unlock these opportunities.

Work permits promise speed and scale. By waiving a single requirement and extending the flexibility now in place for displaced applicants under an innovative pilot, Canada can open a major route to safety and opportunity for Ukrainians, Afghans and others before them.

Dana Wagner is co-founder and managing director of TalentLift, a non-profit talent agency.

Source: Work permit change urged for Afghans now needed for Ukrainians to come to Canada

Québec loin de sa cible pour les réfugiés afghans

Of note (and not blaming the feds):

Six mois après la crise en Afghanistan, Québec peine à accueillir les 300 réfugiés afghans qu’il s’était engagé à recevoir, a constaté Le Devoir. Selon des chiffres fournis par le ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI), à peine 89 d’entre eux se sont installés au Québec dans le cadre du Programme spécial pour les Afghans qui ont aidé le gouvernement du Canada au mois d’août dernier, alors qu’ils sont plusieurs milliers dans le reste du pays.

En comparant cette opération humanitaire à celle menée pour les Syriens en 2015-2016, où plus de 5000 réfugiés syriens avaient été accueillis par le Québec, force est d’admettre qu’elle n’a pas la même ampleur, admet Stephan Reichhold, directeur de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI). « C’est quand même assez décevant. En août et septembre dernier, on pensait qu’on recevrait des milliers d’Afghans, la Ville de Montréal était hypermobilisée, et finalement très peu d’Afghans sont arrivés au Québec, dit-il. Au moins, [le gouvernement] aura essayé. »

Pour toute l’année 2021, hormis les 89 venus au Québec grâce au programme spécial du fédéral, 232 Afghans ont été admis comme réfugiés dans la province, à la suite de l’aboutissement de demandes de parrainages privés déposées au cours des années précédentes. La cible du gouvernement Legault pour 2021 est de 7500 réfugiés, toutes origines confondues.

Quant au gouvernement canadien, il disait la semaine dernière qu’il travaillait « d’arrache-pied » pour atteindre sa cible de 40 000 réfugiés afghans. Or, jusqu’ici, 7885 Afghans sont arrivés, soit 4600 dans le cadre du Programme spécial pour les Afghans ayant aidé le gouvernement et 3285 grâce à un autre programme humanitaire canadien destiné aux plus vulnérables (femmes leaders, personnes LGBTI, etc.).

Rétention difficile

Selon le MIFI, les réfugiés afghans venus au Québec dans le cadre du programme de réinstallation fédéral se sont surtout installés à Montréal, Longueuil et Brossard. Malgré le fait que Sherbrooke abrite la deuxième communauté afghane en importance, à peine 11 personnes, venues grâce au programme fédéral, y ont élu domicile, mais 52 réfugiés, entrés par la « voie régulière » que constituent les parrainages, s’y sont aussi installés. Alors que les premières familles arrivaient en septembre dernier, la directrice du Service d’aide aux néo-Canadiens (SANC) de l’époque, Mercedes Orellana, reconnaissait déjà qu’un nombre moins important que prévu allait s’installer en Estrie et au Québec en général.

À l’époque, une intervenante et interprète afghane du SANC s’était rendue à Toronto à la demande du MIFI pour tenter de convaincre les nouveaux arrivants de venir s’installer au Québec. Selon Mme Orellana, il était important de vérifier si la famille avait des attaches ou un intérêt particulier à venir s’installer dans une province comme le Québec qui a ses particularités, notamment la langue française. « C’est bien de vérifier, car ça va être un facteur de rétention pour plus tard », avait-elle indiqué. À l’étranger, le Canada est plus connu que le Québec.

Le MIFI explique aussi le déficit d’attraction du Québec par la popularité de grandes villes canadiennes. « Le Québec était prêt à accueillir plus de familles, cependant, il semble qu’une part importante des personnes réfugiées afghanes arrivées à ce jour ont préféré demeurer dans la grande région de Toronto, où des membres de leurs familles ou des proches étaient déjà installés », a déclaré Émilie Vézina, porte-parole du MIFI.

Un « manque d’ambition »

Le député de Québec solidaire et porte-parole en matière d’immigration, Andrés Fontecilla, estime que la cible d’accueil fixée était trop faible et ne reflétait pas les besoins. « Trois cents personnes nous apparaissaient très peu. À 4personnes par famille, ce n’est même pas 80 familles », a-t-il dit au Devoir. Il rappelle que, l’été dernier, accueillir les Afghans au Canada était une « urgence ». « On disait qu’on allait faire immigrer le plus grand nombre possible [d’Afghans]. Le résultat est vraiment décevant. »

Le député libéral Saul Polo déplore lui aussi le « manque d’ambition » du gouvernement du Québec. « Pour avoir été en contact avec un grand nombre de personnes afghanes, à Laval, mais aussi dans d’autres villes comme Sherbrooke, je peux dire qu’elles sont déçues et frustrées du manque d’ambition du gouvernement face à la situation afghane. Il semble que le gouvernement ne tient pas compte du fait que la communauté est prête à se mobiliser pour les accueillir et les intégrer. »

C’est ce qu’aimeraient justement faire Nancy Green-Grégoire et Clothilde Parent-Chartier, toutes deux membres de Tri-Parish + Friends for Refugees, un groupe de parrainage collectif (parrainage privé). Dans une lettre ouverte publiée en septembre dernier, elles demandaient que le parrainage collectif puisse être mis à contribution pour les Afghans, ce que les plafonds imposés ne permettaient pas. « Il y a des [gens] ici qui étaient prêts à parrainer et qui voulaient réagir rapidement, comme lors de la crise syrienne, mais ce n’était pas possible », rappelle Mme Parent-Chartier, en disant voir le parrainage collectif comme étant complémentaire au parrainage de l’État.

En 2020, le groupe a notamment parrainé une famille d’Afghans, réfugiée au Pakistan, qui n’est pas encore arrivée. Il a aussi déposé, le mois dernier, trois autres dossiers d’Afghans membres d’une même famille ayant fui au Pakistan, qui n’ont pas encore réussi à obtenir un statut officiel de réfugiés. « On ne sait pas s’ils vont répondre aux critères [du MIFI]. Vont-ils pouvoir bénéficier d’un traitement particulier alors que c’est très difficile pour eux d’obtenir une preuve du Haut-commissariat aux réfugiés ? » s’inquiète Mme Parent-Chartier.

Source: Québec loin de sa cible pour les réfugiés afghans

Themrise Khan: The incoherence of Canada’s refugee policy

Overly simplistic in its focus on the “whiteness” of refugee policy given the many restrictions on refugees and discrimination of minorities in non-white countries.

And while one can characterize Afghan interpreters and the like as “helping imperial forces during an (illegal) occupation,” seems a bit divorced from the reality of the Taliban’s rule.

As for her recommendations, fine as far as they go but the challenge is not at the general principles, which most policy makers agree with, but actually implementing them in a real-time basis, where I believe the main failures likely were:

Over the past year the lives of refugees and asylum seekers of the Global South have been put at risk more than ever by potential receiving countries of the Global North. Militarized migrant pushbacks at the Poland-Belarus border. Increasing migrant deaths in the English Channel. Draconian asylum and refugee policies being proposed by the U.K. A United States that continues to be refugee-averse despite a change in government. In essence, we are witnessing the “whiteness” of refugee policy – a shift by countries of the Global North toward using the lives of refugees to wield greater power over the Global South, all the while retaining the false narrative of the white saviour.

Canada’s current refugee policy is nowhere as extreme as those examples, but it is not so distanced from this narrative either. The Afghan refugee crisis in the summer of 2021 was meant to be a moment for Canada to exhibit its good policy, particularly since it played an active part in post-conflict Afghanistan and maintained a presence in the country. Instead, the Canadian response exposed the contradictions in its refugee policy, many of them a long time coming. Whiteness does not only mean discriminating against the “other.” It also means being completely disconnected from the situation outside the Global North. Canada’s response to the Afghan crisis has provided us with several illustrations of this disconnect.

Canada’s response – gaps and discrepancies

From being one of the first northern countries to shutter its embassy when the Taliban took over to when it ended its evacuation mission in the following days, Canada’s disconnect from reality was clear. There were thousands of refugee and asylum cases that had been pending since at least 2014, and the decision to create new refugee programs or expanding existing ones at the 11th hour was a bureaucratic scramble, rather than a well thought out policy response. It stranded people in other countries, which meant Canada had to negotiate special agreements so these countries would temporarily house refugees destined for Canada. The ethics and optics were particularly weak when this involved countries like Pakistan that had closed their borders and were hostile to Afghan refugees.

The situation of Afghan interpreters and fixers who assisted Western forces, including Canada, illustrates the biggest policy disconnect from reality. Their roles were prone to being romanticized in the media, as they perfectly invoke the image of the Western white saviour and the oppressed Afghan working together against a common evil. However, Afghans did not necessarily help Western forces because the West came to save them. They did it primarily for economic survival, as some studies have found, and as a way out of the country for their families in the aftermath of a brutal conflict. This does not negate their right to seek refuge. But suggesting the prospect of asylum in return for helping imperial forces during an (illegal) occupation is a flawed and incoherent premise in the context of refugee policy.

In effect, Western interventionism created multiple tiers of refugees in a system that was never meant to view some as being more deserving than others. In Canada’s case, this threatens the lives of Afghans who directly worked with us by encouraging them with the prospect of asylum and then failing to deliver even before it was too late – all because such cases required a force-fit within a law that recognizes them as just one of many deserving groups.

What the Afghanistan situation most clearly illustrates is the absence of mechanisms within Canada’s refugee policy to respond to complex emergencies on the ground. Canada’s refugee system, like many others, looks to the United NationsHigh Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) referral program. Inthis program the UNHCR refers the applications of refugees officially registered with the organization to third countries thatare offering resettlement opportunities. These third countries, such as Canada, then select who to admit by applying their own criteria to the applications referred to them by the UNHCR. This is how Canada responded to the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. In the recent Afghan case, however, the system was redundantsince the urgency created by the Taliban takeover was to removeAfghans from within Afghanistan, not from refugee camps elsewhere. Not anticipating this, and also leaving existing Afghan applications stagnating within our refugee system, was perhaps Canada’s worst failing in this crisis. 

Recommendations for better policy and practice

The Afghanistan case blindsided Canada’s refugee response system, but it didn’t have to. We must redesign our refugee policy to be proactive instead of reactive. For this, Canada must:

  • Design better mechanisms to predict and understand conflict-induced displacement

The West obsessively predicts large-scale displacement related to climate change and hunger. But it does little to predict or understand how armed conflict or political power imbalances can force people to flee, especially in the Global South. This includes ignoring voices within the Global South that are better able to judge tension and displacement in their countries. Afghanistan has been a location of conflict for as long as the Taliban have existed. Misjudging this was a tactical error that exposed Canada’s disregard for the views of potential refugees themselves. Refugee policy must invest in a more Southern-led understanding of how conflict manifests over time and can affect people’s lives, including the voices of refugees. It must move away from being simply a paper-pushing exercise.

  • Integrate inter-departmental efforts to respond to refugees and displacement 

Canada was involved in pre- and post-conflict Afghanistan not just militarily, but also via its development programming and humanitarian support. Information gathered by the various departmental channels is vital to developing an integrated response to potential human displacement across government. Better inter-governmental co-ordination would improve refugee response systems, particularly in countries where Canada is diplomatically present.

  • Adopt emergency measures to respond to crises

Canada rather proudly states that it responded to the Afghan crisis by effectively accommodating on-ground challenges. This included bypassing and altering screening and documentation requirements. But this was done only after the realization that regular, peace-time processing measures were not working. Precious time was lost in the process of coming to this realization. Had such measures been in place beforehand, the response would have been immediate. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge the distinction between and the need for peace-time and conflict-related refugee processing mechanisms.

A Canadian government official recently commented on Canada’s refusal to bring in relatives of Afghan refugee applicants who were deemed inadmissible. He said: “the hard part of the job has been telling people: ‘I’m sorry, this is the policy.”

This comment in a nutshell sums up Canada’s disconnect from reality as it relates to its refugee response. The Afghan case has demonstrated that whiteness manifests itself not only in racial discrimination but also in policies that are largely oblivious to reality outside our borders. Canada prioritized its bureaucracy and interventions over the risks faced by the Afghan people, and the system ignored the urgency of a country on the brink of collapse. If this is what our refugee system is built around, it is clearly geared toward helping Canada, and not the vulnerable.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/january-2022/the-incoherence-of-canadas-refugee-policy/

UK tightens criteria for Afghans to enter despite ‘warm welcome’ pledge

Yet another example by far too many countries:

The Home Office has tightened the criteria allowing Afghans to enter the UK despite promises from Boris Johnson to give a “warm welcome” to those who assisted British forces or worked with the government.

The department announced changes to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) which narrows the criteria from that used during the Operation Pitting evacuation in August 2021.

After the UK’s chaotic exit from Kabul in August, the prime minister launched “operation warm welcome” to ensure the safety of staff in fear for their lives from the Taliban.

“I am determined that we welcome them with open arms and that my government puts in place the support they need to rebuild their lives,” Johnson said at the time. “We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves.”

Source: UK tightens criteria for Afghans to enter despite ‘warm welcome’ pledge