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UNHCR trains Canadian officials dealing with refugees

News Stories, 4 February 2009

© UNHCR/R.Khan
Participants in one of the training courses.

TORONTO, Canada, February 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency recently trained employees of two Canadian government agencies in Toronto on refugee protection to ensure that asylum needs are not overwhelmed by the larger migration issues.

As part of the training, which is offered year-round across the country, UNHCR provided two sessions to some 30 staff of the Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Etobicoke office and the Refugee Eligibility and Admissibility Unit of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Pearson International Airport.

"We view these opportunities to share information as a service and an investment," said UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Hy Shelow, who facilitated the sessions last month. "Canada is an important protection partner for UNHCR, including globally, and it is crucial that officers who are responsible for access to territory and to procedures also have a larger view of the procedures and what they mean to people.

"At a macro level the strong focus in Canada on protection of human rights and of refugees resonates around the globe," said Shelow. "And at the front end of the processes that assure this protection, CIC and CBSA staff are frequently the first representatives of Canada that those in need meet. The ongoing dedication to helping others is fundamental."

Karen Thompson at Etobicoke CIC said many staff had found the UNHCR training "an eye-opening experience," placing refugee protection in the context of the worldwide situation. "We believe that such training gives our staff a renewed sense of purpose and dedication for their work."

The training at Toronto's international airport was directed at the new CBSA unit established last December, which assesses admissibility to Canada and eligibility to go before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Asylum seekers receive a streamlined refugee intake examination, with appointments scheduled for within three days of their arrival in Canada.

"We are happy to see that such a unit has been established in line with UNHCR's recommendations," said Abraham Abraham, UNHCR's representative in Canada. "We hope to continue working closely with CBSA, contributing to the special skills base for officers working with asylum seekers at ports of entry."

In addition, the training increases government counterparts' awareness of the role of UNHCR in areas like monitoring and intervention, building closer working relationships and demonstrating the value of UNHCR.

"It is our most sincere hope that we can provide an improved service to those asylum seekers arriving at Pearson International Airport," said Abeid Morgan, chief of operations with Pearson's CBSA. "We will continually monitor the effectiveness of this programme, making adjustments as needed. We are appreciative of the continued support provided by the UNHCR."

By Gisèle Nyembwe in Toronto, Canada




UNHCR country pages

Capacity Building

Helping national authorities meet their obligations to the uprooted.


We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

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Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

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Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

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