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August 10, 2011

The Canadian Embassy in Cairo

Dr. Mohamed Bakr

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Those who check the website of the Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship will see lots of images for smiling people including an image of a smiling Muslim woman wearing the traditional headscarf. But many of those who had to deal with the visa section of the Canadian embassy in Cairo know that there is absolutely nothing to smile about! Your experience with the embassy will only leave you feeling humiliated, insulted, and angry.

Many Egyptians have to apply for a temporary visitor visa to visit their family members in Canada for one reason or another.  Canada is home to around 300,000 Egyptian Canadians. 

It is only natural that many parents would like to visit their children.  In other cases, someone is having a surgery or going through tough health time and needs a family member to arrive from Egypt.  In other cases, young children would like to visit their cousins in Canada and spend some time with them.  In all these cases, the relative in Canada initiates the process by sending an invitation letter in which he vows to cover all the expenses of the visiting family member.

The first thing to get such a visa is to fill an application and attach to it a money order.  You are not usually allowed to enter the embassy.  Egyptians are left to line up in the street under temperature as high as 50 Celsius for hours.  An embassy employee picks the paper and the money order and tells you that you will hear from them soon.  In most cases, the next thing you get is a rejection letter with no logical reason.  You are not allowed to speak to anyone on why you were rejected.  The only thing you can do is apply again and pay that same substantial amount of money one more time only to get another illogical rejection! 

Some of these cases really make you feel angry.  One such a case is that of a woman who has a daughter and is expecting twins.  She suffers from a medical condition and she needs her mother to arrive in Canada to take care of her and her kids while she recovers from the delivery.  She attached a note of her medical condition to the invitation letter.  Her mother got rejected for no logical reason.  In that specific case, the MP representing her riding was able to have the embassy reverse their abusive decision through his contacts.  Many were not so lucky.

Another case is for another woman who needed her parents to be with her during her delivery.  She has 3 children and is about to deliver the 4th.  Her husband is a busy person and may not be available for a long time.  So they invited her parents to visit them vowing to cover all expenses.  Her parents visited Canada before with no problem. 

Unfortunately, they got also rejected for no reason.  Her parents are relatively wealthy and they proved proof of their assets in Egypt.  The husband tried to get his MP’s help.  The MP sent several communications to the embassy but they simply ignored him.  This family do not know how to take care of the three kids until the mother is home again and capable of caring for them. The wife simply feels angry and betrayed by our Canadian embassy in Cairo.

In the past, Egyptians who held a visa to the US would get the Canadian visa easily.  The US does not give its visa without carefully checking every applicant.

Only recently, having a US visa became a reason for rejecting an application for a Canadian visa! 

An Egyptian woman who works for an American company in Egypt wanted to visit her brother who is a Canadian citizen.  She has a multiple entry visa to the US as she routinely travels to the US to visit the company branch there.  She got rejected recently for no reason.  The immigration officer indicated in the letter that she was rejected because of the US visa!  She was given no chance to understand what this means.   The same story was repeated with many who applied for a Canadian visa while holding a US visa.

Even spouses of Canadian citizens did not escape this abuse.  A Canadian woman married to an Egyptian man wanted to visit Canada with her husband and spend some time with her brother who is a Canadian citizen.  The embassy denied him visa because he “holds no sufficient ties to Egypt”.  He showed them that he have a prominent job and have a large sum of money in Egyptian banks in addition to owning an expensive condominium.  This all did not matter to the embassy officials. 

This abuse also extends to visitors who are entitled to student visas.  One Egyptian lady received a scholarship from a Canadian university.  The university, in the admission letter, vowed to pay her a sufficient income to live and study.  In the past, she would get her student visa immediately.  This woman was rejected 4 times!  Every time, she had to pay the same application processing fee to get an illogical rejection. 

One time she managed to meet the agent and asked her why she was rejected.  The agent responded by yelling at her and kicking her out!  This Muslim woman who wears a headscarf was about to pay the fees for the 5th time when a nice employee in the embassy recognized her face and asked her why is she there again for the 5th time.  She informed him of what happened.  He then advised her not to apply that week and wait for one more week until some of the embassy employees who are known for abusing certain applicants will go on vacation!  She did exactly that and she received the visa.

The most interesting part is that Egyptians who are residents of other countries receive the Canadian visa in a normal way when they apply from their country of residence.  I am aware of many cases where Egyptians living in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait for example were able to get a temporary visitor visa to visit relatives in Canada.  It seems that the issue is only localized to the Canadian embassy in Cairo.  The applications for immigration to Canada seem to be also processed in a normal way.  It is only the temporary visitor visas that have been almost completely blocked!

I call on the minister of Immigration and Citizenship to investigate the abuse of power in the Canadian embassy in Cairo.  This issue is very serious because of its social impact.  Many complaints were received by Canadian MPs and by provincial governments.  This issue can simply escalate into a full blown diplomatic conflict between the two countries given the accusations of discrimination and humiliation.  I call on Mr. Jason Kenney to show that the Canadian government does not target Egyptian Canadians and that Canada is indeed friendly to the people of Egypt.

P.S.  I can connect anyone interested to many of the families whose loved ones were subject to this abuse in Egypt.

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