June 29, 2018 8:56 am

Calls to end policy that blocks child refugees in Canada from reuniting with parents

An Afghan teen who faced death threats from the Taliban after fleeing Afghanistan is being blocked from reuniting with his family because Immigration Canada doesn't consider the parents of child refugees “family members.”

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Child psychiatrists, lawyers and NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan are calling for an immediate end to Canada’s support of a “cruel” and “inhumane” policy that prevents hundreds of child refugees each year from reuniting with their families.

READ MORE: Canada blocks teen from reuniting with family despite Taliban death threats

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“To be blunt, it’s child abuse,” said James Deutsch, a Toronto-area psychiatrist who’s worked with young children seeking asylum in Canada.

The policy keeps child refugees who arrive in Canada from adding parents to their permanent residency claims because parents are not considered “family members” when children are making the application.

Calls to end the policy come after Global News first reported Wednesday that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has no evidence to support the policy.

According to experts, this policy leads to prolonged, and sometimes permanent, family separation.

Action needed ‘immediately’

Michaela Beder is a Toronto-based psychiatrist. Like Deutsch, she has worked with young migrants seeking asylum in Canada.

She says there’s no doubt the policy is harmful and will have long-term effects on children.

“It’s really shocking to me,” Beder said. “We know that children having their families with them is extremely important, especially when people are arriving with trauma and a lack of safety in their country.”

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Though Canada is not separating children from their parents — many of the child refugees effected by this law arrive unaccompanied — the policy does make it very difficult, if not impossible, lawyers such as Geraldine Sadoway say, for children to be reunited with their families.

Immigration Canada says the policy is necessary for the best interests of children to ensure that kids sent to Canada alone are protected from possible harm, including human traffickers.

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“Family reunification is a fundamental pillar of our immigration system. At the same time, we must provide safeguards against the potential exploitation of children,” said Beatrice Fenelon, a government spokesperson. “Allowing children to include parents on their application increases this risk as unaccompanied minors are more vulnerable.”

As for what information the government has to support the policy, Fenelon confirmed none exists.

“We are not aware of any research being conducted or available statistical evidence [to support the policy],” she said.

Beder, meanwhile, says the government’s justification for the policy is bizarre.

“I’m frankly puzzled by the Canadian government’s justification,” she said.

“We have a lot of child mental health research that speaks to the importance of having children be connected to their families,” she said. “I would urge the government to look at the available evidence on child separation and to then act to prevent that from happening.”

Both Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, and Conservative immigration critic, Michelle Rempel, declined requests to be interviewed for this story.

Opposition says policy based on a ‘whim’

NDP immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, says the government needs to be mindful of the dangers child refugees face in their home countries, and that in her experience working with refugees, almost no one flees their home unless it’s absolutely necessary.

While acknowledging the act of physically removing children from their parents is not the same as keeping child refugees separated from their families, she says it’s “hypocritical” and “disingenuous at best” for the government to criticize the Trump administration’s detainment of child migrants without also looking at how Canadian immigration policies affect children.

READ MORE: Trump administration halts policy of turning over immigrant parents to prosecutors

She says the government has no choice but to end this policy immediately.

“We are forcing the separation of child from their parent,” she said.

“And while we have not ripped the child away from the arms of the parents, … we’re not allowing them to be reunited.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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