Assisting Refugees detained in Australia

The Farhani family and OCRA support group

Why have we sponsored a family from Australia?

Put simply, it’s because the Australian government has made Australia an unwelcoming place for refugees. The plight of Kamal and his family illustrates why OCRA, along with other refugee organizations in Canada, is working with Australian groups to bring refugees from Australia to Canada.

In late 2020, an Australian group, Grandmothers for Refugees, contacted OCRA to ask if we could help sponsor Kamal, his wife, Elham, and their three children. They are Arab Iranian, a minority subject to discrimination and persecution in Iran. When he spoke out against abuses at his workplace, Kamal became a target of the authorities. He was arrested numerous times and tortured. In 2013, the family was able to leave Iran for Indonesia, from where they took a harrowing boat trip with the hope of reaching safety in Australia.

They arrived in July 2013, only to learn that just weeks earlier, the Australian government had announced that no refugee arriving by boat would be allowed to settle in Australia.

The family was held first on Christmas Island and then in Nauru. For health reasons, they were evacuated to Australia and held in locked detention. They endured locked and community detention since August 2013.

In March 2021, OCRA completed a sponsorship application and it was filed with the Canadian government in September 2021. Funds for the sponsorship are coming almost entirely from our Australian colleagues.

Grandmothers for Refugees in Australia described the urgency of the family’s situation: “We fear that if we are not able to help this family soon to begin rebuilding their lives in a safe community, the situation for them will get worse. Kamal’s health has been compromised because of the torture he suffered in Iran and through the vicious cycle of hopelessness brought on by detention and not being able to work and provide for his family.”

The family was interviewed by the Canadian Embassy Visa Office in March, 2022, and they finally arrived in Canada in mid-January 2023.

Life in Canada

Now there is no holding them back.

Once they arrived in Canada, employment was top of mind for the couple. Just a few days after their arrival, they queued outside a government office, cold and still jet-lagged, waiting for the doors to open so they could obtain Social Insurance cards that would be needed for employment.

The first few weeks in Ottawa were a whirlwind: acquiring health cards; registering for medical services; getting drivers’ licences; buying winter clothes; opening a bank account; testing for English language classes; and registering the children in schools.

Kamal quickly secured full-time employment as a handyman at a seniors’ residence and has now started a four-month training program in home renovations work.

Buoyed by her progress in English classes, Elham has completed the in-person and online training to work in child care and will shortly start working full-time in the public school system.

While still getting use to Canadian customs, expressions and climate, the youngest children, Mayasin (age 7) and Mohammad (age 11) have make friends at school and found playmates in their downtown community. Mohammad has eagerly participated in various soccer programs since arrival and Mayasin started gymnastics in September. Maysa ( age 17) is taking English Second Languages courses in high school and did brilliantly in the past semester.

Everyone took time out for Winterlude and the Tulip Festival and the children got an introduction to Canadian wildlife on a visit to Parc Omega in June. A highlight of the summer was a surprise visit of their Australian “grandmother” who came to Ottawa for a joyous two-week reunion.

While the family deeply miss their supporters in Australia, they appreciate the autonomy they have in Canada, including the freedom to choose the schools the children attend, freedom to work and to decide when and where to travel. They feel their wishes are sought and respected and that this overrides the settlement challenges they have faced to date.

Additional information: “…how Australians ae helping Canada’s private sponsors give refugees a fresh start” : the Guardian