In August, Naik Arbabzada was thrilled when he quickly managed to gather a private group of acquaintances to sponsor his older sister’s family to Canada from Tajikistan, where Afghans have sought refuge.
The Edmonton group quickly raised $ 60,000 in cash, and one person donated $ 8,000 in dental services for his sister, brother-in-law and six children.
But then they ran into a problem because the family has not been able to obtain the so-called “refugee status determination” document, a document they need from the government of Tajikistan to be recognized as refugees in need of resettlement.
Without that role, Arbabzada, a medical student at the University of Alberta, said her sponsorship group can’t even apply.
“We are asking the federal government to treat the Afghan refugee crisis in a similar way to the Syrian refugee crisis by waiving the RSD requirement, so that it does not hamper an applicant’s ability to submit a sponsorship application,” Arbabzada said, age 30, who resettled in Canada with her parents 20 years ago.
(Her two older sisters stayed behind in Afghanistan because they were married and could not come as dependents. One is still trapped in Kabul with her family).
Canada has pledged to welcome 40,000 Afghan refugees through its special immigration measures and humanitarian resettlement program after the Taliban seized Kabul and returned to power in August. So far only 3,500 have made it.
Ottawa has set a goal of giving way to a total of 59,500 refugees in 2021, but so far only 44,300 have been admitted, according to data confirmed by the immigration department.
The goal for the admission of government-assisted refugees this year was 12,500, and 22,500 for those privately sponsored by churches and community groups like Arbabzada’s family. As of October 31, only 7,800 and 4,500 were admitted, respectively. The rest of the 44,300 admitted so far were refugees who entered Canada and were later granted asylum.
Officials said Canada’s ability to process immigration applications has been severely hampered since the onset of COVID-19 amid office closures and travel restrictions here and abroad.
This week, Ottawa confirmed that it has reopened the land border to irregular migrants from the US, giving them access to seek asylum in Canada, which had been sending these potential refugees south of the border since March 2020.
“As the public health situation improves and the border reopens, Canada has removed temporary public health measures restricting entry of asylum seekers and the agreement with the United States has come to an end,” said Alex Cohen, Press Secretary to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. .
“Canada remains committed to upholding our fair and compassionate refugee protection system, meeting our national and international legal obligations, and protecting the health and safety of Canadians and those who wish to come here.”
While it’s good news that those travel restrictions have been relaxed, Arbabzada said Fraser must also eliminate red tape that prevents smart Canadians from bringing in troubled Afghans.
He said his sister’s family had no plans to move to Canada until June, when they were forced into hiding and had to flee the country after the Taliban threatened his brother-in-law because he was a contractor providing office supplies, furniture and non-perishable food to foreign companies in Kabul.
However, since he did not work for the Canadian government, the family did not qualify for Ottawa’s special measures to resettle here, leaving private sponsorship as the only option.
“It is a shame Canada cannot meet its annual refugee target when there are people like my sister who are going to receive great support and are waiting to start their lives in Canada,” said Arbabzada.
Members of his sponsorship group have contacted the immigration department to urge the government to waive the refugee card requirement for Afghans.
In an email, a senior immigration official said that removing the requirement, even temporarily, would result in more applications, affecting processing times and the timely resettlement of all privately sponsored refugees.
“There is an ongoing need to manage the receipt of these requests to achieve acceptable processing times,” the letter said.
The official’s response annoys Tema Frank, a member of Arbabzada’s sponsorship group.
“The government is speaking from both sides of the mouth,” said the Edmonton writer.
“They are trying to claim glory for saying that we will support all these Afghans. And yet when you have Canadians who are ready to support them and make it happen, they are putting this artificial block in the way. “