Refugees in Canada plea for government to speed up family reunification
Families shared tearful stories of being separated from families at emotional conference
Refugees and their advocates are calling on the Canadian government to speed up family reunification.
"My mother has been in Turkey for over a year waiting to come to Canada. Really I miss her," said Huda Mohammed Ahmed, 14, at a press conference in Vancouver on Monday.
Ahmed, a government-assisted refugee from Iraq, came to Canada with her older brother — but without their mother, whose paperwork has yet to be processed.
"I miss my home and my friends," said Ahmed.
Last Saturday, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced a $25-million plan to allow more refugee applications to be processed.
Immigration advocates at the announcement said the quickest way to speed those applications along is to help families who have been separated by war.
"Canada needs to put refugee children first and this can happen through an expedited government-assisted program," said Chris Friesen, chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance.
Friesen pointed out that the federal government sped up family reunification for refugees from Kosovo in 1999.
Like the other panel members at the conference, B.C.'s child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond asked the Canadian government to help reunite refugees with their families.
"I can't justify to you the slowness of the process, it's inexcusable," said Turpel-Lafond. "I've found the bureaucracy far too complex and burdensome."
'I love him, he's my dad'
Other refugees separated from their families stood up to share their stories as well.
Nasteho Abdhurhman's mother brought her and her three sisters to Canada three years ago from a refugee camp. Separated from their father, she and her family are trying to bring him here.
"I love him, he's my dad," said Abdhurhman.
Hers is not an unfamiliar story, said Dr. Mei-ling Wiedmeyer, who runs a specialized primary health care facility for refugees in B.C.
"We see children who cry at night for their fathers," said Wiedmeyer.
"Imagine that you have already lost immediate family members to violence in the region, the mental weight of this is almost unbearable."
With files from Meera Bains and Deborah Goble