Many of those affected by the earthquake in Haiti have relatives who have immigrated to Canada in recent years. While the process has been expedited for Haitians immigrating to Canada who also have family members here to sponsor them, some of those family members are unable to sponsor relatives in desperate need of assistance because they have not yet received a response to their own refugee claims.
Prior to the earthquake, there were 7,500 refugee claims from Haiti, and since the earthquake, that number has now grown to a staggering 61,000, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
This week CBC told the story of one woman, Myrlene Coulanges, who is currently working and living in Ottawa. Coulanges applied for refugee status from Haiti two years ago and has yet to hear back about it. Because of this delay, she is unable to sponsor family members who were deeply affected by the quake, including her young son who is still in Haiti and now homeless.
The Haitian community as well as others have been continually urging the government of Canada to expand its definition of “family”, despite Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney’s previous statements that the government would not be able to budge on the matter. The government has frequently made reference to the 2004 Tsunami disaster with regards to the definition, saying that any refugees from that disaster were not offered an extended definition and it would not be fair. It’s also interesting to note that in the six-month period after the tsunami, even though similar expediting processes were implemented, only 400 applications were processed by the department.
This week, Queen’s University immigration expert Sharry Aiken told CBC that, “The way Canada defines family in our immigration law is woefully inadequate to respond to the real family relationships many people have, particularly in other parts of the world.”
As we’ve previously reported, the Canadian government’s definition of “family” covers spouses, grandparents and children, but does not expand to encompass aunts, uncles or cousins.
The Haitian earthquake was a disaster of immense proportions, and using previous large-scale disasters to provide reasons as to why special considerations cannot be made can also be considered unfair to those facing extreme hardship in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Canada’s response to the disaster in Haiti has been admirable. But so far, Canada Immigration can do better.
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