Humanitarian crisis in Horn of Africa needs strong Canadian response

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Canadian Council for Refugees
Media Release

For immediate release
13 July 2011

Humanitarian crisis in Horn of Africa needs strong Canadian response

The Canadian Council for Refugees today added its voice to calls by Somali Canadians for Canada to show strong leadership in responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Thousands of people have fled conflict and famine in Somalia. Children are dying from starvation before they can reach safety.

“We are counting on Canadians responding generously, as we have to other recent appeals for aid, in line with our best traditions,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President. “We are conscious of the distress of Somali Canadians, many of whom have family among the refugees fleeing and in the overwhelmed Dadaab camp in Kenya. The crisis facing Somalia has being going on for twenty years – we need it to be resolved.”

Shortcomings in Canadian refugee policy are highlighted by the current acute crisis. Canada’s Nairobi visa office, which covers the Horn of Africa, has excruciatingly slow processing times for refugees (37 months for government-assisted refugees, 51 months for privately sponsored refugees). Because the backlog at Nairobi of refugees awaiting resettlement is so large, the Canadian government has asked the UNHCR to stop referring refugees to Nairobi and has required private sponsors to reduce the numbers of refugee applications they submit to Nairobi.

This means that Canada is not able to help relieve the pressure on the Dadaab refugee camp through resettlement or respond effectively to newly arrived refugees in the region who need urgent protection.

Further, when after years of waiting the Nairobi office finally makes a decision on Somali refugee applicants, they unaccountably reject some, despite the gravity of the human rights situation in Somalia that they have fled.

Even applications for reunification of immediate families, including children with their parents, take an unacceptably long time to process at Nairobi (40 months for dependants of refugees). Somali applicants also face many barriers in the process, including frequent demands for DNA testing.

Canadians with displaced family in the region are left feeling powerless and despairing, because they are unable to reach out to help their relatives.

The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the Canadian government to meet with the Somali communities in Canada to discuss how they can work together to find solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

The CCR also asks the government to address the barriers and delays facing Somalis, as well as refugees from other countries, at the Nairobi visa office, and to respond quickly to particular resettlement needs arising out of the current crisis, as it has done in other similar situations, including the unrest in Libya.

Finally, the CCR reiterates its request that the Canadian government impose a Temporary Suspension of Removals to Somalia. The longstanding situation of generalized insecurity in Somalia makes such an action long overdue. The current acute crisis only heightens the need for this measure, which would give Somalis in Canada basic protection from deportation.

Contact:
Janet Dench, tel. (514) 277-7223 ext. 2, email: jdench@ccrweb.ca

More information

For an example of one baby's separation from her mother, see http://ccrweb.ca/en/zeynab-timeline.

For more information on the long delays at Canada’s Nairobi visa office, see http://ccrweb.ca/en/nairobi.