A plea for non-status West Africans

To: Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Dear Mr. Alexander,

I am sure that you are aware there may be thousands of undocumented persons from West Africa who are here in Canada as failed refugee claimants or otherwise without legal status.

I am counsel for a failed refugee claimant from Sierra Leone who has been here for more than six years and who has close family members, an uncle and two aunts, who have succumbed to the deadly disease ebola in his home country.

His children and other relatives are fleeing from place to place to escape this epidemic. He is very fearful of being sent back to his country and has requested me to make this direct appeal to you, not only on his behalf but for all persons who are similarly situated from West Africa.

According to recent figures released by the World Health Organization, Ebola is the biggest global health challenge since the emergence of AIDS, and over 4,000 people have been killed since the current outbreak, the vast majority from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Here is what was reported in a recent article in the New York Times:

“UNITED NATIONS – Schools have shut down, elections have been postponed, mining and logging companies have withdrawn and farmers have abandoned their fields. The ebola virus ravaging West Africa has renewed the risk of political instability in a region barely recovering from civil war, UN officials said Tuesday, hours after the World Health Organization reported that new cases could reach 10,000 a week by December – 10 times the current rate.

“The head of the new Ebola Emergency Response Mission, Anthony Banbury, told the Security Council that none of the three most heavily affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – is adequately prepared. Only 4,300 treatment beds will be available by Dec. 1, according to current projections, and even those would not have an adequate number of staff members. The acceleration of new cases, if not curbed, could easily overwhelm them.

“Mr. Banbury painted a picture of substantial need. Only 50 safe-burial teams are on the ground, he said, but 500 are required. They need protective gear and about 1,000 vehicles. So far, Mr. Banbury said, the mission has delivered 69 vehicles.”

A Canadian Council for Refugees release states: “Canada recognises that it is not safe to return people to countries where there is generalized insecurity and it imposes a moratorium on removals to eight countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, in recognition of the situation of generalized insecurity reigning in these countries (the moratoria were lifted July 23, 2009, in the case of Burundi, Liberia and Rwanda).”

While nationals of these countries are not removed, they are not necessarily able to obtain permanent residence status, even after many years here. Several thousand people in Canada are currently living in this limbo – some for more than 10 years.

Living in this limbo causes many serious hardships.  People from moratorium countries cannot reunite with family members, even their spouses and children, who were left behind in the country of origin. Students from moratoria countries are unable to register for post-secondary education.  Workers from moratoria countries face limited legal employment opportunities.

Only emergency medical care is provided for people from moratoria countries.  Even though people from moratorium countries pay the same taxes as Canadian citizens, they are ineligible to receive child tax benefits.

The situation in West Africa is much more severe and life threatening than those of the countries mentioned above. I am making this plea on behalf of my client, other practitioners, community groups and interested parties to the government of Canada to grant permanent residence status to those nationals who are in Canada and whose country is stricken with ebola.

There are persons who are still here from other countries upon which a moratorium has been imposed. They also should be granted permanent residence status so that they may continue their lives in peace in Canada, knowing full well they will not be sent back to their country.

Let it be said, Mr. Minister, that during your tenure you made changes for the better.

I urge readers to kindly send a copy of this article with a personal note, to: The Honourable Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, KIA OA6.

Sukhram Ramkissoon is a member of ICCRC and specializes in immigration matters at 3089 Bathurst St., Suite 219A, Toronto. Phone 416-789-5756.