Sri Lankan teen finally united with Toronto family

  • January 28, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - With an assist from the United Nations, the Archdiocese of Toronto has sprung a 14-year-old refugee from a three-year bureaucratic purgatory of waiting for the government of Canada to act.

Within days of receiving a letter from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Canadian visa post in Accra, Ghana recognized Piratheeprajh SriVijayarajarajan, who had fled the civil war in Sri Lanka, as an urgent case and a week later had him on a plane to join family in Toronto. For four months Citizenship and Immigration officials at the Canadian embassy in Accra had insisted the boy refugee living alone in the West African city did not qualify for special treatment.

The boy, whose plight was profiled in two previous issues of The Catholic Register, was met at Toronto’s Pearson airport by his ecstatic uncle, Gunaraja Thuraisingham. 

“As a citizen of the world, I will still do all I can for all the other separated minor refugees who are struggling all around the world, and especially in Ghana,” said Thuraisingham.

Martin Mark, executive director of the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT), said it should not have required a second letter from the UNHCR for bureaucrats to decide an abandoned teenaged war refugee qualified as a vulnerable, at-risk youth in need of expedited processing.

“They had all the tools. They had all the information” to make a decision, said Mark.

A Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson told The Catholic Register its officers cannot decide whether an orphaned minor refugee qualifies for expedited treatment without a say-so from the UNHCR.

“Canada relies on the UNHCR to determine who requires urgent protection,” a CIC spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Canada has no program specifically for refugee orphans, and a refugee is only considered for urgent action if the refugee is likely to be killed, attacked, imprisoned or deported back to a country where they would face persecution.

Bringing Vijayarajarajan to Toronto marks a significant victory for the young refugee office, said Mark. “It shows we can be effective,” he said.

Vijayarajarajan’s parents paid an agent to spirit their son out of Sri Lanka as the country’s civil war heated up in December 2008. No one has been able to contact or determine the fate of the boy’s parents since the end of the civil war.

Alone in Accra with very limited English, Vijayarajarajan met a South Asian businessman who helped him  call his uncle in Toronto. By May the case was in Mark’s hands, and ORAT lined up Prince of Peace parish in Scarborough to backstop a private refugee sponsorship application.

In July, Citizenship and Immigration officials in Toronto indicated to Mark that Vijayarajarajan’s case seemed to meet the conditions for expedited processing, though the final decision was up to the local visa officer in Accra. On the basis of that tentative thumbs up and a letter from the UNHCR designating Vijayarajarajan a legitimate refugee, Thuraisingham went to Accra in August to rescue his nephew. But after a couple of tense meetings with a Canadian visa officer, Thuraisingham was forced to return empty handed.

In November, Mark went to in Accra but the visa officer refused to meet with him.

Meanwhile, ORAT continued talks with the UNHCR in Accra. The UNHCR helped ORAT arrange for safer housing in a foster home for Vijayarajarajan and refered the case to its office responsible for all West Africa in Dakkar, Senegal. On Jan. 6 the UNHCR in Dakkar issued a letter saying the boy should be classified a vulnerable youth and his case regarded urgent.

“It’s wonderful what you have done,” Thuraisingham told Mark.

See als:

Tamil refugee boy in immigration limbo

Canadian High Commission in Ghana failing young refugees

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