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B.C. immigrant agency sees decline in government-assisted refugees

Justin Bisonga Kambuyi spent most of his nine years in Uganda doubtful that he would ever see his family again.

His wife fled conflict in the same central African country, and arrived in Uganda thinking her husband was dead. She told fellow churchgoers her story, and someone recognized Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi’s case. Against all odds, the married couple and three of their children were reunified as refugees in a country that hosted 1,497,126 displaced people from surrounding countries at the end of 2017.

Five years after he applied for resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi arrived in Vancouver early in 2018. His case represents a growing migratory trend. After Syrians, refugees from the African continent were the second-largest group of arrivals last year. The number is anticipated to increase in 2018.

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But despite this growing number of refugee arrivals, the Immigrant Services Society of BC has reported that 642 government-assisted refugees arrived in the province last year – a number that represents one-third of the 1,911 who arrived in 2016. The target number of arrivals was 900.

Chris Friesen from ISS of BC said that the immigration officials he spoke to in Ottawa last month were unable to point to any specific reason for this significant drop in arrivals.

“We were surprised,” Mr. Friesen said. “Given the global refugee crisis, we were disappointed that the target that had been negotiated between federal and provincial government was not met.”

Mr. Friesen said he and immigration officials discussed a new monitoring system that is intended to minimize reduction to the province’s resettlement target, which is expected to increase to 1,200 annually by 2020.

Faith St. John of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an e-mailed statement that resettlement locations for refugees are chosen based on factors such as friends and family living in other cities, available housing, and specific medical and community needs, all factors that could be responsible for the discrepancy.

“Given that provincial targets are established prior to the Department knowing the exact nature of each refugee family’s needs, there are bound to be differences between targets and admissions,” said Ms. St. John.

For Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi, targets and admissions represent more than just numbers. He has friends still waiting in Uganda who submitted resettlement applications through UNHCR years earlier than he did.

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And while he arrived in Canada with most of his family, one person is still missing.

Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi’s oldest daughter was separated from the family before her father fled to Uganda. Against all odds, they reunited with her again in Uganda – but by the time they met, the family’s process of being resettled to Canada was already under way, and it was too late for her to travel with them.

Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi was disappointed when he inquired with the Canadian government about bringing his daughter to be with her family in Canada. She is older than 18 years old, making the UNHCR’s family reunification policy difficult to apply in this case.

“When they told me that, I was very sad,” Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi said.

His best option to bring her to Canada would be to raise money and sponsor her case, but as a new arrival himself, this possibility is currently out of his financial reach.

Right now, Mr. Bisonga Kambuyi and his family have just moved to Surrey. He’s looking forward to practising his English, and looking for a job. But his daughter, waiting alone in a country where he himself was stranded for nine years, is constantly on his mind.

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“I’m happy I’m in Canada, but the one thing that is hurting me still is my daughter.”

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