What happens to the Afghan children who arrive alone in Canada?

In the rare cases of children arriving in Canada without parents, a group of government agencies will provide housing and an advocate to fight for them as their refugee status is determined.

“It’s a rather small number of children who arrive entirely unaccompanied. Maybe two or three a week,” Sharry Aiken, a political science professor at Queen’s University, told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.

She was citing statistics from 2017, the most recent year with available data, when 492 unaccompanied minors came to Canada as refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in June found 42 per cent of all refugees in the world are children under the age of 18.

In regards to the recent turmoil in Afghanistan, the Canadian government hasn’t provided any information on how many people taken in were unaccompanied minors. They have pledged to bring in 20,000 Afghan refugees overall.

Aiken, who specializes in immigration and citizenship law, said most children who arrive in Canada without parents or primary caregivers usually have other family members in Canada.

But when they don’t, Canada ensures these children are given someone to fight for them, she said.

ADVOCATES, LOCAL CHILD PROTECTION AGENCIES TEAM UP

Soon after children begin the process, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) appoints a designated representative to advocate for the children when they’re in front of the Refugee Protection Division, a tribunal branch of the board that hears and decides claims for refugee protection.

These advocates also ensure unaccompanied children are matched up with an immigration lawyer.

In most cases, when unaccompanied minors first arrive in Canada seeking refugee protection status as asylum seekers, they’re assessed by Canada Border Services Agency and then referred to local and provincial welfare agencies. These groups then help care for the child’s social, emotional and physical welfare.

Early on, unaccompanied children can be housed and cared for in one of the refugee shelters across the country while their case is pending, Aiken said.

She also said “certainly in most cases,” children who arrive together stay in the same temporary home -- and often have their cases heard before the refugee board together as well.

Throughout the process, several provinces have their own additional services to take the lead and resettle and support unaccompanied minors and provide them with an advocate.

For example, in British Columbia, there is a team dedicated to providing each child with representation at IRB hearings, screenings and placement services consultations. In Quebec, Service d'Aide aux Refugies does the same thing and helps children contact potential relatives in Canada -- endeavoring to place children with families from a similar ethnic background.

While in Ontario, the Children’s Aid Society and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society step in to provide protection services for minors.

HOW CANADIANS CAN HELP

With regard to the latest group of Afghan refugees, the most pressing issue right now is securing enough resources for them in other countries. To aid in this, Canadians can help by donating money to humanitarian organizations on the ground in Afghanistan, who are attempting to assist with evacuation efforts, Aiken said.

Canadians can also support Canadian resettlement organizations which provide essentials like food, education, and other services to families and unaccompanied child refugees.

These include UNICEF Canada, UNHCR Canada, Matthew’s House, and Childminding Monitoring, Advisory and Support.