Nest welcomed two refugee families earlier this year: a family of four from Syria and a single parent and her son from Iraq. That was February. Then the pandemic hit and refugee resettlement to Canada stopped.
Instead of welcoming 32,000 asylum seekers in 2020, Canada has admitted about 6,000 refugees this year. Now, eight months after the application process was stopped, refugee resettlement to Canada has resumed, albeit slowly, with about 250 arrivals each week. All newcomers must quarantine for 14 days and follow strict public health protocols.
The Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association says the federal government must address the backlog caused by the pandemic. It wants the government to make its commitment to a 12-month processing time a top priority.
The Canadian Council for Refugees also urged the Canadian government to speed-up the process, stating the pandemic has created even more hardships for asylum seekers.
As the Council’s executive director Janet Dench told the CBC: “A lot of those opportunities to earn a little bit of money have disappeared, so there are really devastating impacts for many people as a result of the pandemic, which is just adding to the precarity that people were suffering before the pandemic,” she said.
This is true of the refugee families sponsored by Nest.
Ahmed, who fled the violence in Palestine, now lives in Turkey, where he is struggling to find any kind of work during the pandemic lock-down. He had worked at a shoe factory, but the company was forced to close due to Covid restrictions. He found temporary jobs moving furniture, packing dishes, selling recycled items, but they only lasted a few weeks. Without money, daily life is difficult.
A Pakistani refugee family in Thailand is also suffering increased hardships. The family’s interview, scheduled for March 2020, was cancelled due to the pandemic. They have no legal status in Thailand so live in hiding to avoid imprisonment or deportation.
Nest sponsored the Pakistani family in 2016, while Nest submitted Ahmed’s application earlier this year. Their refugee applications to Canada could take years longer to process, if the Trudeau government doesn’t hire more staff to deal with the backlog.
MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s caucus critic for immigration, urged the government to act.
“Persecution does not stop just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Those who are fleeing to get to safety continue to need to get to safety,” she told the CBC earlier this month.