January 20, 2021

COVID-19 suspends Canadian arrival of refugees detained for years near Australia

The Vancouver Immigration Agency is ready to welcome 97 refugees detained in Australia’s North Islands, but Govt-19 has a wedge in the plan.

Applications from the Mosaic Immigration Organization to finance new visitors have passed the initial approval process in Canada and have been transferred to the Foreign Visa Office in Sydney.

“With Govt-19, it changed everything,” Saleem Spindari, senior manager of the Mosaic Refugee and Migrant Workers Program, told the CBC.

Due to the epidemic, the Sydney Visa Office was closed, meaning paperwork and final checks for 97 refugees could not be completed.

Spindari believes the problem can be solved quickly.

“Some of them have been detained under the worst conditions since 2013,” he said.

“After waiting seven years and hearing that they are coming to Canada, they are eager to come back and hear that their files have been finalized.”

Australia has a strict immigration policy, and asylum seekers are sent for processing to camps in Papua New Guinea or the island nation of Nuru as they attempt to reach the country by boat.

The United Nations, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called on the country to close its island facilities, saying they are “inhumane” and abusive.

Spindari says lawyers in Australia approached Mosaic in 2019 about funding some immigrants, and the process has moved rapidly so far.

‘We are still in prison’

Mio has been in custody since July 2013, first in a facility now closed on Christmas Island and then in Nuru, 3,000 kilometers northeast of Australia.

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“I’m stuck here,” Vin told the CBC. “We’re still in prison – an open-air prison.”

He said his only hope was Canada, a member of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority. He already had two rejections from the United States, which dramatically reduced the number of refugees and completely cut off immigration from some Muslim-majority countries.

“This is a very difficult time,” Vin said.

His wife and two children are still in Myanmar and he hopes to reunite the family in Canada.

Mio hopes to reunite with his wife and children in Canada. (Mio’s)

A total of 83 family members are expected to come to Canada with refugees under Mosaic’s funding. While they wait until the epidemic stage is over, those family members are still living in places like Myanmar, Iraq and Syria.

Among those detained is 31-year-old Ali Fertmawini from Iran. He said the detention centers where he lived on Christmas Island and Papua New Guinea did not have adequate medical facilities and were often unsafe.

“I want to come and start my life,” he said of Canada.

While waiting for asylum, Fartmawini learned to sew and speak English and hopes to complete his university education when he arrives in Toronto, where he plans to settle.

He also learned Spanish in the hope that he would be accepted into the United States, but Iran was one of the countries subject to US immigration restrictions, so his application was rejected.

“When I heard about the Canadian process … it was the best thing in the world that could happen to me,” Fartmawini said.

Mosaic’s Spindari has no deadline for when the process will end, but he hopes the visa office there can finalize approvals once tourism resumes in Australia.

“We are ready to welcome them at any time. We have made all possible arrangements and raised enough funds to support them,” he said.