Turkish diaspora urges Canada to expedite immigration of families hit by earthquake

The Star

Irem Koca The Star Tue., Feb. 14, 2023

OTTAWA Turkish Canadians are calling on Ottawa to expedite the visa applications of family stranded in Turkey, after the devastating earthquakes.

An online petition signed by more than 7,800 people asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for a two-tiered approach to resettle Turkish citizens in Canada.

The first is to fast-track visa applications under the family reunification stream. This stream is already open to Turkish citizens whose family members are settled in Canada with any immigration status, but according to experts, there has been a backlog for months.

The second is for the government to create a special stream to allow those in quake-hit areas to be given priority.

“The urgency of the situation calls for immediate action,” said Alper Kirtil, a Toronto paralegal and immigration consultant who is leading the campaign.

“These families are in dire need of support and stability that their family members in Canada can provide.”

Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, said last week the government is considering the option of fast-tracking existing permanent resident applications from countries affected by the quake.

“This is a conversation that we’re having, not just for Syrians but also for Turkish applicants who are already in the system,” Fraser told reporters last Wednesday.

“Some may be very severely impacted by the earthquake, some may be in a region that has not suffered the same impacts,” he said.

Kirtil oversees immigration applications from Turkey to Canada. He started the petition, which has also been submitted directly to the House of Commons, with a group of his colleagues in response to the hundreds of Turks seeking help.

People have not only lost their loved ones, homes and life’s savings but also their vital documentation like passports, banks statements and diplomas, Kirtil said.

“People are really desperate and rely on the kindness and compassion of the Canadian people, and I am confident that our government will do its part.”

Last week Canada announced $10 million in humanitarian assistance to support Turkey and Syria. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced that the government will match donations made by individuals to the Canadian Red Cross Earthquake response in the region up to a maximum of $10 million.

“Canada’s response to the earthquake has been slow and inadequate and Turkish Canadians are very disappointed. We have never felt so isolated, and abandoned before,” said Sima Acan, president of the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations, an umbrella organization of the Turkish Community of Canada who support the petition.

“If the campaign becomes successful, it will help hundreds if not thousands of families to reunite. People who lost their businesses or funds for education can restart in Canada like we all did. Children who lost their parents can be cared for by their extended families,” said Acan.

Immigration pathways for Turkish citizens are through family reunification, super visa applications which allow the parents and grandparents of Turks who already reside in Canada, student visas and permanent residency through express entry. IRCC was unable to provide the number of how many immigration applications were currently being processed in Ankara and Istanbul.

“The Turkish Canadians’ demands are realistic,” said Ravi Jain, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer.

“Canada can respond by fast tracking visas and waiving certain requirements which are normally required. Where passports are unavailable, it’s possible to issue special travel documents.”

In 2010, the federal government welcomed thousands of Haitians after a destructive earthquake.

Canada approved permanent resident applications for over 3,600 Haitians and issued over 3,000 temporary resident visas and permits, and united 203 Haitian children with their adoptive families in Canada, according to Global Affairs archives.

Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland recently announced that they will fast track visa applications for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria who can be temporarily hosted by their relatives in these countries.

The 2016 census shows that there are 63,955 Turks in Canada, but the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations estimates that there are now over 150,000 Turks and Turkics living in the country.