A Ukrainian-Canadian man living in Ottawa says his cancer-stricken sister and her son are stranded in Turkey and have been denied immediate help by Canada, Turkey and the UN refugee agency. The woman was undergoing cancer treatment in Turkey when war broke out at home in Ukraine.
Kostyantyn Prokhorovych, 51, said his sister Helena Astafieva, 49, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had travelled from Odesa, Ukraine, to Istanbul for a week of chemotherapy. Her son, Denys Astafiev, 25, accompanied her to help with her care. But while there, Russia invaded Ukraine and now they cannot return home.
“I am desperately trying to get them somehow sent to Canada, so I could take care of them,” Mr. Prokhorovych said. But his sister and her son ran into bureaucratic red tape and did not find any helpful guidance at either the Canadian consulate and embassy in Turkey, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or the Turkish agency that must approve potential refugee applications.
Ms. Astafieva is very weak and can barely walk after chemo. Her brother said he found it shocking that she and her son “were denied help by the Canadian government institutions and UN organization for refugees.”
It is common for Ukrainians to travel to Turkey for medical treatment, Mr. Prokhorovych said, as there are more specialists available in that country. His sister had been going to Istanbul for treatment prior to the outbreak of war.
Mr. Prokhorovych said he suggested she and her son go to the Canadian consulate in Istanbul to tell officials that they have a relative in Canada who can support them. The consulate refused to meet with them, he said, because the consulate does not deal with visas and suggested they seek help from the Canadian embassy in Ankara.
He said he e-mailed the embassy, explaining his sister’s situation and asking for an appointment. Ms. Astafieva and her son flew to Ankara the same day. The next morning, Mr. Prokhorovych said, he received a response from the embassy explaining how to become a refugee in Canada.
The e-mail Mr. Prokhorovych received says that to be considered in one of the refugee programs, a case must either be referred by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or privately sponsored by a group in Canada.
It explains that to be considered to come to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee, the applicant must register for refugee status with the UNHCR, or state authorities. In Turkey, all refugees should register with the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), the e-mail continues, and the DGMM then refers cases to UNHCR for referral to a third country. UNHCR Canada confirmed that the DGGM is responsible for registering and processing international refugee applications in Turkey.
To be considered for private sponsorship, applicants must be sponsored by a group of people in Canada who volunteer to support the applicant for one year after they arrive or until they can support themselves.
Mr. Prokhorovych said he was happy to receive the e-mail giving him directions on what to do, and so he sent his sister and her son to the Directorate General of Migration Management in Ankara to register. But they were refused, he said, and were told to go to the UNHCR, where they were refused again.
He said that after a long “verbal battle” with a UNHCR employee, “they were allowed to leave their story written on the piece of paper, photocopies of their Ukrainian passports and were told to go away and go to Canadian embassy. This was shocking for me to hear.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it cannot comment on specific cases owing to privacy reasons.
Mr. Prokhorovych lives in Ottawa with his wife and son. He said they are a middle-class family, but they cannot sponsor his sister and nephew because they are concerned they will not be able to find people to support the sponsorship.
“What should I do now? My two relatives are in Turkey now without food, money and place to live,” he said.
As his sister and nephew figure out their next steps, Mr. Prokhorovych said they managed to find a fellow Ukrainian in Ankara who offered them a room to stay in.
The federal government on Thursday announced two programs to streamline the immigration process for Ukrainians. For those seeking short-term refuge, Ottawa will create a Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, which will eliminate most of the normal visa requirements and could allow Ukrainians to stay in Canada for up to two years if they pass a background check and security screening. This program could be open for application in two weeks, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said.
Canada is also setting up a family reunification program allowing relatives in this country to sponsor Ukrainians who want to move here permanently. It’s unclear how either program could apply to Ms. Astafieva and Mr. Astafiev’s case.
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