September 2004    VOLUME 2 ISSUE 2      
 
         
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Visit to European Visa Posts and NGO’s

by Mila Voihanski, Executive Director 

This year I had an opportunity to visit the Canadian Visa Posts responsible for applicants from the Former Soviet Union.  It was an extremely productive trip.  No doubt face-to-face visits really make a difference.  These are the highlights of my trip: 

I met with Immigration Section Program Managers in Moscow, Kiev, London, Vienna and Warsaw.  As well, in Vienna I met with Tova Lazimi, Director of Quebec Immigration Service in Europe.

Among a significant number of individual cases that I dealt with, one especially rewarding experience was the resolution of a case of an orphaned 5-year-old girl from Russia.  I was able to receive her immigration papers and deliver them to the girl's aunt and uncle in Canada who will be adopting her.  The little girl will be arriving in Canada in September. 

Aside from dealing with individual cases, we discussed such issues as “skilled worker” immigration (independent), family reunification, and refugee programs.  Reference was consistently made to the new selection criteria for the Skilled Worker Class, specifically language and education requirements.  I was told that, at the recent meeting of the senior staff of the immigration sections from Eastern Europe, held in May in Warsaw, Poland, this issue was brought up as a big concern. It might mean that there will be no diversity in the new immigrant population if the language and education requirements are not adjusted, as in their opinion, mainly applicants from English and French speaking countries could meet these criteria at the present time.

The other extremely important issue that was brought up in my meetings was the issue of family reunification for parents and grandparents.  Although IRPA (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) did not put any restrictions on that class of immigrants, Ottawa has given orders to visa posts overseas to slow-down the administration of the issuing of visas to this class of immigrant.  It now appears as if there will be a waiting period of up to 4 to 7 years for this category of immigrants.  This is a huge upset, and is an issue that we, as an Agency, will certainly be addressing as a major point in our discussions with the Government.

In Vienna, I met with Tova Lazimi, Director of Quebec Immigration Service and Guy Nolin, Immigration Service Marketing Attache.  They have openly expressed their interest in working with JIAS and are looking forward to initiating new projects with the Montreal office. 

In addition to meeting with the Canadian Government I also met with the President of the World Jewish Relief Organization in London, HIAS Directors in Vienna, Kiev and Moscow and the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.  HIAS in Moscow and Kiev has been contracted by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and is dealing with (!) a new phenomenon in Russia and Ukraine - Refugee Claimants.  It must be pretty bad in their own countries to ask for political asylum in Russia and Ukraine.  Aside from processing individual cases, HIAS is doing training for local militia, government officials and religious groups in how to deal with refugees.  Both HIAS and the Human Rights group advised me that general human rights situation in Russia has deteriorated and this includes the marked rise in anti-Semitism.  The Russian society is extremely intolerant of “foreigners”.   25% of the Russian Duma is now represented by an extreme nationalist party, which is enjoying growing support.  The latest statistics show that 60% of Russian citizens support nationalistic ideals.  5% - 7% supported extreme actions such as pogroms and ethnic cleansing.  This represents a significant increase since my last visit three years ago.  There are 50,000 skinheads and other similar youth groups in smaller urban centres, where there are no internal controls from militia or any other official bodies to protect the citizens. 

They also emphasized that the government has been slowly taking back control of the media, jurisprudence etc.  They are forecasting that a culmination of all these events could result in much harder times for the Jews.  Although the financial situation in Moscow and St. Petersburg is somewhat improved, the regions are experiencing extreme levels of poverty. Well, we all know who is being blamed…  The case of Mikhail Chodorkovsky and YUKOS has exasperated the situation.  With Jews representing a significant percentage of the oligarchs, another surge of anti-Semitism is not surprising. As a result there is a renewed interest in immigration to the US and Canada from the regions.   

In conclusion, I must emphasize once again that, although extremely stressful,  it was a very informative and successful trip, which will be helpful in our work with clients, communities and the Government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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