Reunite Baby Afnaan, 3, Separated for 2 years from her Mom in Brockville, Ontario
Reunite Baby Afnaan, 3, Separated for 2 years from her Mom in Brockville, Ontario
An honest mistake in a complicated process has left little Afnaan, 2 years, 9 months old, stranded abroad, unable to hug her mommy, Nasro, for 2 years. Nasro, a Somali refugee, came to Canada in October, 2019, believing her husband, Liiban, and baby girl would follow soon. But due to understandable confusion about how Canada’s complicated sponsorship process works, Nasro and her most precious loved ones have suffered the trauma of an interminable family separation that could be easily ended with the issuance of Early Admission Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs) for Afnaan and the little girl’s father. Applications for those TRPs are available for Canadian immigration officials to read and approve.
This devastating two-year break in family bonding has caused understandable mental health challenges like stress, depression, isolation and loneliness for a loving husband and wife who are trying to survive without one another. Even worse, young Afnaan has grown from baby to toddler to pre-schooler in the time that she has been separated from her mother. It is well-known that mother-daughter bonding in the formative years leads to better self-identity and self-esteem, better future relationship building and socialization, and better overall mental and physical health. This whole family is suffering irreparable damage to their mental and physical health being apart for so long.
Afnaan’s parents both fled grave danger in their home country and met in their country of temporary asylum. They both already had refugee applications in process when they met, fell in love, married, and had a child. Due to bad advice from family and friends, and lack of understanding about their resettlement process, they did not take the correct steps to combine their processes. Nasro did not find out until after she’d arrived in Canada that her family couldn’t simply come to stay with her. That trauma built on the pain she suffered after her father and all her brothers were killed in a terrorist bombing.
Two years apart is too much, and the processing to bring Nasro’s family here could add another 39 months before they’re reunited. This is unacceptable and inhumane!
Nasro’s sponsorship group, Brockville Freedom Connection, has helped her resettle and is prepared to assist Liiban and Afnaan too. The group initiated a private sponsorship of father and daughter in January 2020, and they have raised the sufficient funds to ensure that their reunification and resettlement are successful. Unfortunately, 22 months later, the process has not moved whatsoever, with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada citing Covid backlogs as the excuse. However, we have seen the recent resettlement of refugees who submitted newer applications accompanied by public pressure campaigns, and believe that the only way to move this case forward is with similar public support, difficult as it is for the family to share their trauma with the world. It is shameful that it should come to this, but they are desperate and do not know what else to do. For this reason, we are working with the Rural Refugee Rights Network to help raise the profile of this desperate situation.
In the meantime, Liiban and Afnaan await news in an unsafe country. Crime and violence are common, adequate food and water are not. Mental and physical health care are archaic and inadequate and sickness prevails. Covid runs rampant and vaccines are not readily available to them. These conditions are well documented in the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board's National Documentation Package. Schools and daycares are closed and Liiban cannot work, as there is no care for Afnaan if he does. Nasro works overtime in retail to support herself here in Canada while supporting Liiban and Afnaan overseas.
For the physical and mental health and safety of this family, they must be reunited here in Canada immediately! They have already been severely punished for two years for an honest mistake. Humans make mistakes, and should not be cruelly punished for them when harm was neither intended nor done. Afnaan especially should not be punished. Even Immigration Canada makes mistakes, some with serious consequences. The Toronto Star has reported that immigration “employees often fail to use correct form letters or provide accurate timelines," errors which "could not only cost individual applicants a chance to live and work in Canada but affect the efficiency of the system and create unnecessary backlogs." And this fall, we learned that the names of several hundred vulnerable Afghans seeking refuge from the Taliban were recently leaked in emails sent in error by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
On October 5, 2020, the former Immigration Minister, Marco Mendicino tweeted: "Our government strongly believes in the importance of keeping families together—particularly during difficult times. Now, more than ever, family reunification is an important component of Canada’s immigration system.”
Canada is also obligated by both domestic and international commitments to act in a manner consistent with an approach “taking into account the best interests of a child directly affected.” Article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child confirms “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” The Minister’s own guidelines point out that “factors relating to a child’s emotional, social, cultural and physical welfare should be taken into account when raised.”
In fact, the 2021 election platform of the Liberal Party of Canada appears to recognize that tools similar to the TRPs we are supporting are appropriate responses to address the backlog of reunification cases. Their 2021 election platform promised to “Implement a program to issue visas to spouses and children abroad while they wait for the processing of their permanent residency application, so that families can be together sooner.” The average processing time is now an astounding 39 months.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, is the leading international human rights instrument on children’s rights. Canada’s own immigration legislation specifically provides that it "complies with international human rights instruments to which Canada is signatory,” thus codifying the best interests of children into its own legislative scheme. Article 10 of the Convention states: “applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.”
The new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, has the authority and discretion under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to grant these permits. He also has plenty of precedents for which to justify granting TRPs here.
Recently, IRCC announced a temporary residence public policy for in-Canada families of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedies. In September 2020, similar assistance was extended to those with loved ones affected by the horrific Beirut explosion. Following the December 2004, tsunami in Indonesia, Canada waived fees and granted priority processing to hundreds of affected permanent resident applicants. Over the past six months, 10 long-separated Palestinian refugee families from Gaza have received TRPs as well.
Canada even granted a temporary resident permit to a boy to be able to leave Canada to play in a baseball tournament in the USA and then return. If a TRP could be issued for a young boy to play on his field of dreams, then surely a TRP can be issued for the health and safety of this family.
We call on Minister Fraser for the immediate issuance of an Early Admission Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) to allow Liiban and Afnaan to come to Ontario, Canada now while they await the finalization of their now 22-month old sponsorship application.