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Refugee in EU nation can come to Canada

August 7, 2015

By Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press |

A Canadian immigration loophole that shuts the door on refugees who get to a safe place has opened up a crack.

Eritrean refugee Daniel Semere convinced a Canadian visa officer that Malta, where he ended up, is not the “durable solution” Canada says it is. So he’s now one step closer to immigrating to Winnipeg.

“This is good news,” said Tom Denton of Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg. It has sponsored hundreds of African refugees such as Semere who’ve fled to Libya, then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

“The significance of this is that Malta is part of the European Union. Normally, anyone (in the EU) never gets accepted to Canada because they have a ‘durable solution,’ ” Denton said.

That’s no longer the case.

“The dike was breached,” he said.

Semere, who’s multilingual and has worked as a translator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has been stuck in Malta since 2011 after fleeing from Eritrea to Sudan and then Libya. Malta is a crowded, isolated archipelago between Sicily and the North African coast. There are few jobs for unwelcome foreigners — even ones such as Semere, who is fluent in written and spoken English, an official language. Single and 32, he has little hope of ever integrating into Maltese society or feeling like it is home.

Like other European countries, Malta is a signatory to the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Canada considers signatory countries to have “fair and effective protection regimes” that provide safe haven for refugees.

Without interviewing Semere or seeing the refugee situation in Malta, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada visa officer in Rome dismissed his refugee application, deciding he has a “durable solution” there. Hospitality House applied to the Federal Court to appeal that decision. Citizenship and Immigration Canada offered to send a visa officer from Rome to interview Semere in Malta if Hospitality House withdrew its court application, Denton said.

A visa officer interviewed Semere in early July, and he passed the interview. So did two other Hospitality House refugee cases in Malta, Denton said.

“I think it’s interesting that the ‘durable solution’ argument did not hold up for African refugees in Malta,” he said.

While the Canadian visa officer from Rome was in Malta, she contacted a social agency in Malta that helps refugees, Denton learned.

“They’re probably doing that in due diligence to check out the real living situation for refugees in Malta,” he said.

The Maltese social agency contacted Denton in Winnipeg, asking whether the faith-based charity could sponsor another refugee the agency was concerned about.

“They got my name and contact information from the visa officer,” Denton said.

Semere is thrilled and relieved about coming to Canada. In Malta, he’s seen a systemic dislike for anyone who doesn’t look Maltese. “… This kind of thought seems to be encouraged and is entering the fabric of politics and negative, grassroots activism,” he said in an email. He’s been verbally harassed but has never suffered a physical attack — yet.

“The more hate a person holds in their heart, the more potential he or she has of progressing to the next level of hostility — violence,” Semere wrote.

Nearly 200,000 migrants have arrived in EU countries so far this year.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2015

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