A mother of three who fled Burundi last year says she's heard nothing about her bid to bring her husband and young children here, despite a pledge by the Canadian government to speed up the family reunification process.
Anitha Mahoro fled Burundi after her cousin, Burundian state TV reporter Christophe Nkezabahizi, Nkezabahizi's wife and two children were shot dead by police in 2015 as violence flared over the controversial re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza.
'Every day I check the mail to see if I got some good news, and every day I'm disappointed.' - Anitha Mahoro
Mahoro ended up in Ottawa in September 2016, but left her husband and three children behind in a refugee camp in Rwanda.
"We had a house, we used to be a regular family. One morning everything went away. Now I have nothing — not my husband, not my children. Everything changed in my life," said Mahoro.
Mahoro is studying early childhood education at La Cité collégiale while working part time in a daycare to be able to send money to her family in Rwanda.
"I would like to see them grow up safely in this country," she said.
Minister pledged to halve wait times
Last December then immigration minister John McCallum pledged to reduce the processing period for family reunification applications from about two years to 12 months. The one-year guarantee covered applications already in the queue, as well as new applications.
"This will be of direct benefit to the 64,000 spouses we will admit to Canada in the coming year," he said at the time.
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- Family reunification wait times for immigrants to be cut by half, John McCallum says
Mahoro submitted her application to bring her husband and children to Canada in January, so it hasn't been a year yet.
But apart from a letter she received in March acknowledging receipt of her application, she's heard nothing from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
"It's just complete silence from immigration," she said. "Every day I check the mail to see if I got some good news, and every day I'm disappointed."
Daily phone calls
Mahoro said despite making daily calls for months, she has yet to speak with an immigration official about the status of her application.
"It puts people in a very difficult situation because there aren't many options," said immigration lawyer Arghavan Gerami.
Gerami said a temporary visitor's permit could reunite the family more quickly, but said immigration officials are unlikely to issue the document to a family that has already expressed an interest in moving here permanently.
Pointing to Article 34 of the United Nations High Commissison for Refugees Convention, which calls on signatory countries including Canada to expedite the naturalization of refugees, Gerami said IRCC needs to make the reunification of families a priority.
"If you have someone from a war-torn country who's waiting to be reunited, they're in a greater urgency than someone coming from U.K., or France, or somewhere else."
"I am grateful that Canada has accepted me as a refugee and protected me, but now I can't help but think about what might happen to ... my family," Mahoro said.
Friday afternoon, an IRCC spokesperson said applications for permanent residence typically take two years to process.
The spokesperson said Mahoro's application to bring her family members to Canada would be processed in tandem with that permanent residence application.
She said submissions indicating a request for expediting processing in an exceptional circumstance are considered on a case-by-case basis.
"Typically, as a matter of fairness to applicants in the queue and as a general policy which is applied to all immigration streams, we generally process applications on a first-in, first-out basis," said Faith St-John.