Afghan women’s rights activist waiting to come to Canada despite ‘urgent’ case status

It gave Farzana Adell Ghadiya hope in April when the well-known Afghan women’s rights activist learned her visa application had been marked urgent for processing by Canadian immigration officials.

But almost four months after that last update in the wake of a Star story highlighting her plight, the 38-year-old woman is languishing in limbo in a country where advocates say are picking up Afghan refugees in sweeps and sending them back to the Taliban’s embrace.

“The country where I’m right now does not grant visas anymore to Afghans, but rather deports them to Afghanistan as a group after the visa expires,” said Adell Ghadiya, who was the chief of staff for the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the Afghan government overthrown by the Taliban last August.

“This deportation process is even co-ordinated by the embassy of Afghanistan in this country.”

The Star agreed to withhold the name of the country where Adell Ghadiya is for her safety.

Last August, Ottawa set a target to bring in 40,000 Afghans through a special immigration program for those who worked for the Canadian government in Afghanistan and a humanitarian program for women’s rights advocates, human rights defenders, journalists and at-risk minorities.

But as the federal government is inching toward its goal of inviting 40,000 Afghans and showing no intent to lift the cap, advocates are alarmed by what would happen to those who have yet to hear from immigration officials.

Earlier this month, during a scrum, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser pointed to the challenges of getting Afghans out of Afghanistan in Canada’s resettlement effort.

“We’re dealing with a territory that’s been seized by the Taliban, a listed terrorist entity under Canadian law. These are people who don’t have interest in helping people destined for Canada,” Fraser told reporters.

“Securing safe passage has been and remains the number one challenge to get people successfully resettled in Canada.”

Yet supporters for Adell Ghadiya say they are baffled over why it’s taking immigration officials months to process the temporary residence permit for the woman, who has been out of Afghanistan for almost a year.

“Farzana was out before the government fell,” said Sharen Craig, who is part of a women’s rights network in Ottawa helping Adell Ghadiya. “She was travelling on business for the Afghan government. I can understand your problems getting people out of Afghanistan, but what is your problem about getting people who are in the third country and who are waiting under very precarious situations?

“The government there makes sweeps picking up Afghans and sending them back in planeloads. Farzana was in the street and she saw a woman stopped by the police and they asked her for documents. They don’t have permits to stay there forever.”

Adell Ghadiya’s supporters initially tried to get her here through Canada’s special humanitarian program for activists and minorities. However, to qualify, an applicant needs to first register with the United Nations Refugee Agency or the government of the country in which they now live.

In the country where she is hiding, the UN agency stopped registering refugees a few years ago and the host government is friendly to the Taliban, and reluctant to issue Afghans refugee certificates.

Instead, her advocates helped her apply for a temporary residence permit to Canada in early April.

Matthew Behrens of the Ottawa-area-based Rural Refugees Rights Network said his members have individually contacted their MPs — including Jenna Sudds, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth — about Adell Ghadiya’s file and were told as early as April 12 that the case had reached Fraser’s office and been flagged “urgent.”

“Why is it that three and a half months after it was marked urgent, there’s been no action on it? We have specifically asked what further information might you require to finalize the file and the word from the minister’s office has been ‘We have everything we need,’” said Behrens, whose group’s online petition for Adell Ghadiya has already collected 30,000 signatures.

“In dealing with MPs’ offices, they are all frustrated with the immigration minister’s office as we are. They can’t get answers either. We asked them what else we can do, they just say, ‘Keep up the pressure.’ These are Liberal MPs.”

Meanwhile, Adell Ghadiya, an ethnic Hazara, has already run out of money months ago and must rely on the charity of her Canadian supporters to survive.

“In this difficult situation, both my passport and my visa are going to expire soon and I am afraid that this country will send me back to Afghanistan. I have no chance to live there as long as Taliban has the authority to control the country,” she told the Star from her undisclosed location.

“The Taliban has not changed and women’s freedom is not acceptable for them. Those who fight for Afghanistan women’s rights are sentenced to death by the Taliban. Hazara people in Afghanistan are the main target of the Taliban and attacks are increasing daily.”

With her passport expiring, her supporters also worry they have no further means to send her money because she won’t be able to collect money through a wire service with an expired travel document.

“She ran out of money but she was very proud and didn’t want to ask us, and we all chipped in,” said Craig. “But with an invalid passport, she won’t be able to get the money we send her.”

Behrens said volunteers have been in touch with Adell Ghadiya daily to keep her spirits up but they’re worried for her untreated diabetes.

“Even if she could eventually arrive in Canada, she could lose her eyesight and she could suffer organ damage because of her untreated conditions,” he said.

“We are as so-called feminist government, subjecting a woman’s rights activist to trauma is beyond despicable. Her case is in the minister’s office. It cannot go any higher. Why can’t they just open that file, stamp it and issue her travel papers and send her here?”

Behrens said there’s already a team of volunteers to help settle Adell Ghadiya in the Ottawa area and all she needs is the permit to come.

“She is not going to be a burden in any way on the Canadian state. She’s ready to work. She’s got free housing. She’s got a tremendous support network,” he said. “So every time Fraser says, ‘Oh, it’s really difficult.’ Well, it’s not that difficult.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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By Jon Doe