Opinion by Beth Smillie
Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser claims the Canadian government has the capacity to sponsor an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees by “leveraging” the current system.
It’s hard to imagine how?
The Canadian government’s refugee sponsorship program has run off the rails (if not a cliff) and does not have the capacity to rescue many, let alone an unlimited number of Ukrainians.
Here is what Canadians (and Ukrainians) need to know about Canada’s refugee program.
The Canadian immigration department is not accepting any new refugee applications, despite its promise to resettle 40,000 Afghans. It has been this way for months. We are told Ottawa is so backlogged it can’t handle any new applications.
The Canadian government’s program to fast track Afghan refugees, Operation Afghan Safety, announced in September, never got up to speed. Now it has ground to a halt because the government has not provided any 2022 OAS spots for Afghans. Minister Fraser promised to announce more OAS spots the first week of February. But he didn’t. And still hasn’t.
Afghans whose applications are “in process” are facing lengthy delays. Nest sponsored Maria, an Afghan human rights champion, and her two adult sons in September. Six months later she remains stuck in a third country, sick with worry and running out of money. Fast track?
The Afghan refugee experience stands in stark contrast to Canada’s response to the Syrian crisis. In 2015, Nest submitted two Syrian sponsorship applications on Boxing Day. We were contacted by Canadian Immigration officials a few days later. (They worked through the Christmas holidays to expedite the process.) The families arrived in Saskatoon within two months.
As well, Minster Fraser has not given Sponsorship Agreement Holders (the backbone of the Canadian refugee program) their refugee sponsorship allocations for 2022. The deadline to receive the allocations was February 28. But the deadline came and went.
The truth is the Canadian refugee sponsorship program is not working.
- Our Sudanese refugee family in Cairo has waited more than 4 years for their asylum application to be processed.
- Our Sudanese refugees in Israel have waited 3 years and still no interview, which is the first step in the process.
- Our Pakistani Christian refugees in Thailand have waited more than 3 years.
- An Iraqi refugee in Turkey was scheduled for her interview with the Canadian immigration officials in March 2021, but the interview was postponed. The 65-year old is still waiting for the interview a year later.
Our list goes on. Emails to Canadian embassy staff are seldom answered.
The Canadian refugee sponsorship program needs a major overhaul. Leveraging a train wreck won’t fix the wreck.
The refugee program definitely needs more money and staff to deal with the backlog. But it also needs reforms to make it more responsive and accountable to the thousands of volunteers across Canada working to support refugee settlement.
Minister Fraser needs to get a grip on this reality before he makes any more commitments to Ukrainians, Afghans and other people in desperate need of asylum.