Grandfather pleads for government to reunite Afghan child with family after visas denied
10-year-old has been living away from family since Taliban takeover last summer
For the past year, Mohad Asef Faqiri has been trying his best to support his wife, daughter and 10-year-old grandson, Hadis Afghanfar in Toronto — as well as Hadis's parents and his two brothers abroad.
Hadis, his grandparents and other members of his family got separated from his parents at Kabul International Airport in the rush to flee Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover last summer. They managed to get to Canada while his parents and their other children fled to neighbouring Pakistan. They were hopeful they'd reunite soon after.
But with their temporary resident visas (TRV) denied by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) last month after eight months of waiting, Faqiri's not sure when the child's mother and father can get here — and he doesn't know how much longer Hadis can take being apart.
"It's difficult to deal with him sometimes. He's crying, he's screaming. He has nightmares," said Faqiri, 58.
"His parents have to be here."
The difficulty of getting Afghan refugees to Canada isn't new, but experts say it flies in the face of Canada's rapid response in helping Ukrainian refugees. About 16,000 out of the 40,300 Afghan refugees Canada promised to resettle have arrived since the government's pledge last September, in direct contrast to the 136,877 TRVs approved for Ukrainian citizens fleeing the Russian invasion between mid-March and mid-June alone.
The denial letters provided to CBC News show the IRCC rejected their applications because it wasn't confident they would leave the country after their visas expired.
Kimia Moshiri, the Afghanfars' immigration consultant, says the family only qualified for TRV applications, and upon the IRCC's denials, she says she sent a reconsideration letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser asking for temporary resident permits (TRPs) instead.
That would have allowed them to at least visit Hadis on a short-term basis. However, she says the decision remained the same.
"IRCC did not consider the child's best interest in this case, nor did they treat this case special as it involves a separated Afghan family," said Moshiri in an email to CBC News.
"IRCC processed this case the same as other TRV applications; we were not expecting this."
Why Ukrainians but not other refugees?
The IRCC says it can't comment on individual cases for privacy and security reasons. But in an email to CBC News, IRCC spokesperson Rémi Larivière says while the department understands when people are disappointed by a visa refusal, it has to maintain certain immigration standards.
"When a visa officer refuses an application, it is because the applicant does not meet the requirements set out in Canada's immigration law," said Larivière.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown immigration experts that these requirements can be lowered and revised in emergency situations — in ways that always seemed out of reach in previous global emergencies, says Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
"That's a really positive development," said Dench.
"And what our request is, is that that way of thinking be extended to other groups."
For years, the Canadian Council for Refugees has been appealing to the Canadian government to fast-track family reunification cases, grant TRVs while applicants work toward permanent residency and TRPs to help reunite families in the interim, and accept more refugees.
While progress has been made in utilizing these tactics more efficiently to get Ukrainian refugees to Canada faster, it can't stop there, says Dench.
"It is something that people are asking: why Ukrainians, but not people from Ethiopia, or from Afghanistan, or many other situations in crisis that people are fleeing?"
In response to the difference in refugee treatment, Larivière says the Canada-Ukraine emergency visa is a temporary program and thus different from the Afghanistan refugee resettlement program, since many Ukrainians "intend to return to their home country when it will be safe to do so."
"Although every situation is different, IRCC is always guided by the same values and principles," said Larivière.
'Help us in this situation'
In general, the council says immigrants often wait years to reunite with their families, and often to the detriment of their own mental and physical health.
In Hadis's case, Dench says it may be harder to get his family here than in other cases, since Canadian immigration policy doesn't outline a clear path for uniting a minor in Canada with parents abroad.
Faqiri says while he can try to explore what remaining options are left to get his family here, he hopes his pleas reach Ottawa.
He hopes the federal government can relieve him of the strain of supporting two families, rescue relatives caught in a dangerous situation abroad, and help a 10-year-old-boy struggling to understand why he can't be with his parents.
"I don't want to complain about this process at all, because there's a lot of people like Hadis in a bad situation, especially through the Russian situation … They are human beings, they need help like us," he said.
"But I'm urging the government, and I really urge immigration, to help us in this situation."