Visa officer censured over rejection of refugee

Posted by admin on Mar 2nd, 2009

Mar 02, 2009. Lesley Ciarula Taylor. Toronto Star.

A scathing Federal Court verdict calls a visa officer in Pakistan close-minded and incompetent for an “indefensible” decision that stopped a Toronto women’s organization from bringing a widow and her three children here from Kabul, Afghanistan. The 30-year-old Afghan woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her safety, fled to Pakistan after her in-laws tried to force her to marry the 16-year-old brother of her late husband, murdered in 2002. During the nine months she lived with her in-laws after the murder, she was “severely beaten” several times, sometimes while her young children watched.

“She was told she would have to give the children to her father-in-law if she left without marrying the brother-in-law,” said Adeena Niazi, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Organization.

Niazi met the woman in Pakistan after the law graduate of Kabul University wrote begging for the Toronto organization’s help to sponsor her move here.

“There are people in Toronto who would want to hurt her,” said Niazi.

In her decision, the visa officer at the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad declared the woman didn’t want to return to Afghanistan mostly because of “a conflict between your in-laws … and your wish to remain unmarried.”

After reviewing the case at Niazi’s urging, the officer said the woman could live under her father’s protection in Kabul, a large enough city in which to hide from her in-laws.

In a ruling last month, Mr. Justice Douglas Campbell declared the visa officer displayed “a mind unwilling to learn. This is a case of reviewable error which would be obvious to a gender-sensitive eye possessed by a decision-maker who has accomplished the understanding and skill expected.”

Canadian-trained immigration officers should know the significance of “gender-based persecution,” said lawyer Timothy Wichert, representing the woman. “As a woman, she was in real danger.”

Campbell also said the government, by fighting the case in court, “chose to defend the indefensible.” The court awarded the woman $7,000 in legal costs. A new visa officer is expected to make a decision on the woman’s appeal in months.

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