Canadian High Commission in Ghana failing young refugees

  • January 5, 2010
{mosimage}Though he has been attacked in the street, had to be moved to a safe house and is now so depressed he only speaks in whispers, a 14-year-old refugee stranded alone in Accra, Ghana, still does not qualify for urgent or expedited processing, according to Immigration Canada officials handling the case. (See - Tamil refugee boy in immigration limbo.)

If the Canadian High Commission in Accra manages to process the boy refugee in the standard 37 months it takes to get through the paperwork, the boy will be 18 when he is finally reunited with his surviving family in Toronto.

The case of Piratheeprajh SriVijayarajarajan, whose parents sent him out of Sri Lanka in late 2008, before the last stage of the civil war in that country, was reported in The Catholic Register Sept. 20. With no word from his parents since the end of the war, the boy's closest living relative is an uncle in Toronto.

According to the Office of Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto , the Tamil boy refugee is not the only child refugee Toronto Catholics are trying to sponsor who has been left in harm's way while waiting for the Canadian High Commission in Accra to act.

In the case of three orphaned Congolese siblings aged 15 to 19 the Office of Refugees has discovered the 15-year-old girl was raped more than a year ago and the high commission has not classified her case as urgent.

"When we talk about urgent need of protection in sponsorship cases, probably an orphan girl, under aged, who has been raped — I doubt that any human being can say that is not an urgent case," said ORAT director Martin Mark.

Nor is she the only rape victim who has failed to move Accra's visa post, said Mark. A Liberian single-mother refugee who was brought to Canada by ORAT on Immigration Canada's request was found to have two more daughters stuck in a refugee camp in Ghana.

"While waiting for the Canadian visa post in Accra one of these girls became a rape victim. And she became pregnant from rape," reports Mark.

Over a four-week period while in Accra, Mark tried to discuss these cases with Canadian officials at the high commission but was stonewalled. Repeated requests for a meeting with Canadian officials were met with lectures about the privacy act and outright refusals to speak with Mark. Mark in fact had with him an Immigration Canada form authorizing release of information to him as a representative of the sponsoring agency.

Whether a visa officer meets with a sponsor is solely at the discretion of the officer, said a Citizen and Immigration Canada spokesperson.

Piratheeprajh, the boy refugee, alone in a city where he does not speak the language, can't go to school and has no legal status, isn't in enough danger to qualify for urgent protection, according to an e-mail from Myriam Morin Dupras of the high commission to the boy's uncle, Gunaraja Thuraisingham.

"Documents and e-mails submitted have been attached to Piratheeprajh SriVijayarajarajan's file. This does not change our assessment that his personal safety and security are not at risk and there is no emergency to move him ahead in terms of processing time at this point," Dupras wrote in the Dec. 11 e-mail.

A week later the boy was assaulted by a street gang trying to steal his cell phone. With the help of the UNHCR Piratheeprajh has been moved to foster care in Accra. But his uncle can't understand how his nephew fails to meet Immigration Canada's own definition of an at-risk youth in urgent need of protection.

"Separated minors are in a highly vulnerable situation and should be treated in an appropriate and sensitive manner," reads Immigration Canada's internal manual, known as OP5, to guide officers in handling such cases. "Where separated minors are without the protection of an adult guardian, officers must be alert to the risk to which the children may be exposed if there are delays in the finalization of the application for permanent residence."

A refugee will only be considered for urgent processing if the refugee's "life, liberty or physical safety is under immediate threat," an Immigration Canada spokesperson said in an e-mail. Refugees can be removed within a few days if they are likely to be killed, subject to violence including torture, rape, abduction or imprisonment, or if they are likely to be deported back to face persecution, said the spokesperson.

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