Winnipeg refugee the face of a global crisis

In the minds of immigration officials, because Suhailau Hussan did not disclose the changes in her family, meaning her marriage and new son, she misrepresented her case to authorities. Now she is facing consequences that could permanently affect her children.

Suhailau Hussan's consequences from misrepresenting her case could permanently affect her children

Suhailau Hussan (right) with interpreter Ahlam Jasim at the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute.

Suhailau Hussan is a grieving mother ensnared in a global phenomenon.

She has a child in Lebanon, a country overflowing with refugees. Two others are in Iraq, too destitute to seek sanctuary. And two others are with her here in Winnipeg....but are facing deportation back to Syria. 

"I need help from the government, I need help," Hussan says in Arabic, through interpreter Ahlam Jasim. "I could be patient with everything, just if I family safe. My children safe."

This was not the happy-ever-after ending Hussan had in mind years ago back in Iraq, when the single mother applied to come here as a refugee. Eventually, Canada gave the request the green light. But it took years before she was finally able to come here. And by then, she'd remarried and had another child.

Fast forward to six months ago.

Hussan arrived in Toronto with two of her children. There, immigration officials learn about the marriage, and that her husband and child are waiting to join her from Lebanon. That's when they put her case in a holding pattern, and that's why she may never be able to sponsor her remaining children to come here.

The problem? In the minds of immigration officials, because Hussan did not disclose the changes in her family, meaning her marriage and new son, she misrepresented her case to authorities.

And according to Regulation 117 (9) (d) of our immigration act, if someone misrepresents their case, they cannot sponsor their remaining family members, especially those who were "not examined by an immigration officer, when the sponsor came to Canada."

And the consequences could be permanent. 

Even if Hussan avoids deportation, this could be a lifetime ban on family reunification, whether her oversight was intentional or accidental. 

"We've been very, very concerned about people who are in this situation," says Janet Dench, Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

"And particularly the children that are affected by this, who are abandoned overseas by the desire of the immigration rules to punish a parent failure to report."

Ed Wiebe echoes that sentiment.

Wiebe is the refugee co-ordinator with the Mennonite Central Committee's head office in Winnipeg. He says these kinds of claimant missteps occur often, and he understands why.

"How would we fare if suddenly in Istanbul, complete strangers, different culture and language, we're supposed to look at our own family situations and you know, try to explain that one under duress in four minutes or less, right? How this or that person fits in or what happened with this or that relationship?" he says.

"We might easily slip up somewhere else if we were the victim."

Exacerbating the scenario is the global landscape in which it is playing out.

Right now, there are more than 51 million refugees in the world; that's the highest number since World War 1.  It's being called a mega crisis by UN officials: A 'perfect storm' of escalating violence and displacement in neighbouring countries in Iraq and Syria, and the tens of millions of civilians pouring out of these countries and seeking safety in countries like Lebanon and Turkey.

As a result, aid agencies are stretched to the brink of collapse.

Just days ago, the Mennonite Central Committee issued an SOS for more donations. Just weeks ago, the World Food Bank warned it would run out of money to feed displaced Syrian refugees unless the world upped their donations.

Here in Canada, critics say our immigration department has been woefully slow to respond.

Just last year, for example, the feds made a promise to the United Nations. By the end of  2014, they would allow some 1,300 Syrian refugees into the country. That deadline is just about two weeks away, and so far, only a few hundred have arrived here. Hundreds of others are still awaiting visas.

Which leads us back to Suhailau Hussan.

She is one of the 'lucky ones' who made it here. But with her children spread out through some of the most war-ravaged terrain in the middle east and with her own refugee status in limbo, she is a local face to a global crisis that's already killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

"She only wants her family together," says Ahlam Jasim. "Every day is hard for her, because she doesn't know if they're safe."

To hear more on this story, tune into CBC Information Radio (89.3 fm) at 7:40 a.m.


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