British Columbia

More than 100 refugees detained by Australia to resettle in Canada

Nearly 150 refugees who have been held for years within Australia's offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are preparing to call Canada their new home.

Refugees are in the last stages of approval before leaving detention on Pacific islands

A refugee advocate holds a placard as she participates in a 2020 protest in central Sydney against the treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres located in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. (David Gray/Reuters)

Nearly 150 refugees who have been held for years within Australia's offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are preparing to call Canada their new home.

Thanks to the efforts of MOSAIC — a non-profit migrant and refugee settlement service based in Vancouver, B.C. —  applications for private sponsorship have been approved by Canada and the organization is now waiting for the visas to be processed and finalized before making travel arrangements.

"Many of the international organizations call them the forgotten refugees," MOSAIC senior manager Saleem Spindari said on the CBC's On the Coast. "They have been in prison-like situations for about seven years, some of them more."

He said some of refugees stuck in detention are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, while some are even stateless. Regardless of their country of origin, Spindari said the Australian government has adopted a policy that any refugee who is trying to seek asylum and arriving in Australia by boat will be sent to offshore processing centres and will not be allowed to resettle in Australia.

"We have had cases of people attempting suicide and there really is no end to this situation," Spindari said. "When people are disconnected from their communities, their family members ... then it's really tough."

Spindari said the organization was approached by Laurie Cooper, a refugee advocate in North Vancouver who started Canada Caring — a group of Canadians who assist refugees and people seeking asylum in Canada. Together they reached out to the Refugee Council of Australia and started the Operation Not Forgotten initiative.

"We really don't want any of the refugees to be forgotten," he said, "so we started fundraising for our efforts and we've managed, with the help of many donors and volunteers, to sponsor some of them."

Once the refugees land in Canada, the organization will help them resettle by finding a fully furnished home and employment.

"We will help the refugees to reconnect with the families that they have left behind ... and we will assist them in connecting to the communities of their settlement," Spindari said, "and if there are any needs in terms of counselling, we will make sure they get the support they need."

LISTEN | Saleem Spindari talks about the Operation Not Forgotten initiative on CBC's On the Coast:

Nearly 150 refugees are coming to Canada after being held in detention in Australia. Local non-profit MOSAIC will help them settle in. We speak with Saleem Spindar, the Senior Manager of Refugees and Migrant Workers Programs. 8:02

With files from On the Coast