By Colleen Sym
Published: April 2007
Related Topics: Social Justice
April 4, 1985 was a milestone for refugee rights in Canada. On that day, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right of refugee claimants in Canada to life, liberty and security of the person, and that claimants are therefore entitled to an oral hearing, in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international law.
Endorse the Canadian Council for Refugees Manifesto on Family Reunification.
Many of us have received those postcards from family and friends sent from exotic locations informing us that they wish we were there. The more fortunate of us have sent those "wish you were here" messages to those back home.
The "wish you were here" message takes on a whole different perspective when you view it though the lens of a refugee family in Canada waiting for re-unification with a family member who had to be left behind. The Canadian Council for Refugees has started a campaign to raise awareness and promote change to address the problem of delay in reuniting families separated in the process of escaping persecution or fear of persecution in their homeland. The campaign is called "Wish you were here: Campaign for speedy family reunification."
The federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act promotes refugee family reunification by allowing refugees recognized in Canada to include family members overseas by adding them to their application for permanent residence.
In order to be recognized as a "refugee" in Canada, everyone claiming refugee status from inside Canada must satisfy the Immigration and Refugee Board of the legitimacy of their claim. If successful in doing so, the refugee is entitled to apply for permanent resident status in Canada. This process usually takes six months to a year. After being a permanent resident for three years, the person can apply to be a Canadian citizen.
Once the refugee status of the person here in Canada is recognized as legitimate, they become a protected person. Only then can they start the process of family re-unification. This means adequately proving relationship with those left behind to the satisfaction of Immigration officials and including them in their application for permanent residence within 180 days of being found to be a protected person. The application must include processing fees of $550 per adult and $150 per child. Those included in the application must undergo a medical examination for public safety and clear security provisions.
Statistics from the Canadian Council for Refugees indicated that in half of the cases like this, refugees have to wait more than 13 months for family members to be processed, one in five has to wait more than 26 month and some have to wait much longer.
The impact of prolonged separation on these families is enormous. Those left behind are often left in situations of enormous risk from threat of war, poverty or insecurity. Refugees in Canada describe that the anxious waiting causes severe psychological and physical upset. Many suffer from depression that impacts their ability to integrate into Canadian society. Those left behind may lose trust in those in Canada thinking that reunification is not being taken seriously or it would have happened sooner. Finally, if reunification is achieved the relationship between the family members can never be what it was. Feelings of abandonment and betrayal or simply a growing apart because of separation take their toll.
Carolyn Vanderlip, a member of the Diocesan Outreach Committee and who is the Diocesan Refugee Sponsorship Coordinator says:...
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