Syrian refugees who have recently settled in Canada have another hurdle in addition to learning a new language, finding a place to live and getting a job.
They need to fix their names.
Hundreds of Syrian families who fled to Canada with little or no documentation are upset with the versions of their names that wound up on Canadian immigration papers.
Some 3,000 came to Canada with exit visas from Turkey. They were filled out by Turkish-speaking officials who transliterated their Arabic names using Turkish pronunciations and spellings.
Others arrived through Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt where other officials often mangled their monikers.
The result? The names on their Canadian identity documents are often not quite the names these refugees prefer, adding to the stress of adapting to a new country.
Some members of the same family have even been stuck with slightly different last names, the result of hastily processed forms, no documentation from their home country and the difficulties of transliterating Arabic names using a Roman alphabet.
As of this month, at least 422 Syrian refugees who arrived through Turkey have applied to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to fix their official names. A total of 270 have been approved so far. Many others who arrived through other Middle East countries face the same problem.
“This is affecting a lot of families,” says Maria Teresa Garcia, a manager with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in downtown Ottawa.
“They become frustrated. … They get obsessed, and the reality is they don’t have the documents to process the corrections.”
The immediate issue for refugees is amending a key document called a Confirmation of Permanent Residence, in a bureaucratic process that costs applicants $30, with another $50 charged for amending the related Permanent Resident card.
‘The problem is faced by lots of refugees in the whole region when transliterating their names from Arabic to English.’
– Ghina Koussa, Ottawa immigrant community volunteer
In the case of Syrian refugees admitted on a Turkish exit visa, Canada’s Immigration Department has agreed to waive those fees until 2021. As of March last year, Syrian refugees began being processed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, say department officials, ending the Turkish transliteration issue.
But Ghina Koussa, an Ottawa volunteer who works with the immigrant community, says the name-change dilemma is a much larger problem.
“The issue is beyond the Turkish transliteration. The problem is faced by lots of refugees in the whole region when transliterating their names from Arabic to English,” she said…