Immigration officials admit error after rejecting Ottawa family reunification

Federal immigration officials admit a woman, who is officially stateless, should have received her visa at the Canadian embassy in Kuwait after a five-year squabble delayed the family's reunification in Ottawa.

Ottawa man finally secures visa to bring family to Ottawa from Kuwait

Shams (left) and Ahmed (right) live in Kuwait with their mother. Their father wants them to join him in Ottawa but their mother's stateless status had her permanent residency application stalled for five years.

Jaber Mufarreh says he is ecstatic after Canadian immigration officials reversed a decision to reject his wife's travel documents to Canada. 

For five years, Mufarreh's efforts to reunite with his family in Kuwait has been bogged down in delays and set-backs over his wife's application for permanent residency. The most recent hurdle revolved around getting legitimate travel documents for his stateless wife, Farah Ghodian. 

Ghodian is Bidun, a traditionally nomadic people Kuwait regards as illegal within its borders. This stateless status prevents her from obtaining a passport. 

The Canadian embassy in Kuwait also would not recognize her Red Cross travel documents given frequently to recognize stateless individuals.

As the latest deadline of Jan. 16 loomed, Muffarreh went to Kuwait to shepherd the paperwork, but hopes were dashed when Canadian immigration officials rejected the document suggesting it is only useful in refugee cases. 

"When they told me [the document was rejected], it was like a stab in the heart. I almost cried," said Mufarreh.

​Happy ending finally

Mufarreh had been travelling back and forth to see his wife and two children; his five-old-daughter and 18-month old son have Canadian passports but lived with their mother in Kuwait. He said he didn't want to separate them from the mother they have lived with their entire lives.

But this week, following a CBC News story on the immigration issue, officials reversed the decision and spokeswoman Nancy Caron wrote the below statement in an email.

"After conferring with the visa office in Abu Dhabi, we have determined that a Red Cross travel document is an acceptable document in this case," the statement read.

Mychildren have never seen Canada. I'm going to bring the whole family back, together, finally.-Jaber Mufarreh, father

"We apologize for any problems the delay in making this determination may have caused."  

Mufarreh said he was extremely happy and relieved to hear the news.

"My children have never seen Canada. I'm going to bring the whole family back together, finally," he said over the phone from Kuwait.

Mufarreh came to Canada in 2000 when he was 14 years old, and he is now a Canadian citizen.

"I have been in Canada half my life, and now we can all end this story," said Muffareh.

Government needs to learn from this: lawyer

Arghavan Gerami, a lawyer helping the Muffareh family, says she hopes Canadian immigration officials re-examine what happened with this case so it doesn't happen again (CBC)
​Arghavan Gerami, an Ottawa lawyer who had been working to help unify the family, said the Canadian embassy had been insisting, until last Sunday, the Red Cross travel documents are for refugees only, even though she says they normally provide a bridge for stateless people, as well.

Gerami said she hopes the embassy re-examines what happened with this case, particularly since the Red Cross document is the only tool available for stateless people "who are already incredibly vulnerable," she added.

"The suspense and anxiety this has caused for this one family is something I hope doesn't happen again," said Gerami.

There are still a few hurdles to retrieve the children's paperwork in order to travel, but Mufarreh said, in the coming weeks, he hopes to bring his family together in Canada for the first time.