Group calls on Canada to create sponsor program for family fleeing war-torn Sudan
A Canadian trapped in the middle of an escalating war in Sudan blamed his home government on Saturday for his harrowing three-day journey out of the war-torn country, saying Ottawa has failed to provide stranded residents with a clear evacuation plan.
Hisham Mohamed, 49, was due to fly home to Welland, Ont., on April 18 but saw his flight cancelled amid growing violence between Sudan’s army and the rival paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces.
He decided to make the dangerous trek out of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum after facing the prospect of running out of food and water.
Mohamed said he signed up with the Global Affairs registry of Canadian citizens the same day the fighting started one week ago, but didn’t hear anything further. After calling Global Affairs Canada daily for three or four days, he was only advised to seek shelter.
“After the fourth call with them, I decided they’re not gonna do anything,” Mohamed said in a telephone interview from the border between Sudan and Egypt. “That’s when I made my decision to make a move and try to get out of Khartoum and eventually out of Sudan.”
The ride to Egypt is typically seven hours but took Mohamed three days. He said the journey involved buses, pickup trucks and small vehicles, as well as an overnight stay in one location.
“Whatever you get, you just take it,” Mohamed said. “But thank God, safely I made it.”
The Sudanese army said Saturday it was co-ordinating efforts to evacuate foreign citizens and diplomats from four countries as fighting spilled into a second week.
Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan said he would facilitate the evacuation of American, British, Chinese and French citizens and diplomats from Sudan after speaking with the leaders of several countries that had requested help. The White House did not immediately confirm the military’s report.
Several foreign countries, including Canada, have struggled to repatriate their citizens — many of whom are trapped in their homes as food supplies dwindle.
Global Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Canadians would receive evacuation help from Sudan, and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has previously said Canada had no way of helping trapped citizens escape the fighting. Flights have been grounded for days, and most major airports have become dangerous battlegrounds.
Mohamed, a married father of four from Ontario’s Niagara region, said even his family discouraged him from making the trip.
“But I said, OK, if I’m gonna die, let me try dying while I’m trying to escape instead of here trying to get water and they shoot me or something,” he said. “Might as well just try to get out and maybe I’m lucky, that’s how I came to this decision.”
Meanwhile, the head of a Sudanese Canadian community organization said his group is calling on the federal government to create a program for community members seeking to sponsor family who are either stuck in Sudan or have fled to nearby bordering countries.
Ashraf alTahir, president of the Sudanese Canadian Communities Association, says the umbrella organization of groups based across the country wrote to Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday. He said members of the diaspora are prepared to pay any associated costs, but need the government to put a program in place. They also called for an evacuation plan and humanitarian aid.
“As we speak right now there is no safe place,” AlTahir said. “No one can tell the exact number of deaths right now, the death toll is increasing in astronomical numbers.”
Estimates from the World Health Organization put the number of casualties at more than 400 so far.
AlTahir said his organization has heard from Canadians who are rationing water to stop from going outside and are trying to stay safe. Others are making an effort to flee.
“But up until now there is no action plan in place, no one is clear,” alTahir said. “So people, they started to take this stuff on their shoulders to flee to nearby countries.”
AlTahir said he fears the situation in Sudan could turn into another genocide like the one Rwanda saw in 1994, adding western governments must not abandon the people of Sudan.
“We are asking the Canadian government and the international community to take their responsibility in protecting and defending the civilians,” alTahir said.
The federal government announced late Friday it had sent members of its Global Affairs Standing Rapid Deployment Team to Djibouti due to the volatile and rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan. Joly said Canada’s embassy in Khartoum has temporarily suspended in-person operations, but the team can provide emergency response, co-ordination, consular assistance and logistical support.
The federal government said the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are also planning for contingencies but gave no further details.
Global Affairs Canada said Saturday there are 1,596 Canadians known to be in Sudan, but the number is only an estimate as registration is voluntary. AlTahir said his organization is also gathering data on community members stuck in the country to help with any evacuation efforts.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2023.
With files from The Associated Press.
Remaining residents urged to flee Tumbler Ridge immediately as crews continue to fight wildfire near townsite
Crews continue to fight the West Kiskatinaw fire in northern B.C. that moved closer to the town of Tumbler Ridge on Friday, burning about three kilometres from the townsite, according to the district.
But winds are expected to change directions Saturday, according to the B.C. Wildfire Services (BCWS), potentially pushing the fire away from Tumbler Ridge.
“We are certainly not in the clear at this point, but we are leaning toward a little bit of cautious optimism,” said Karley Desrosiers with the BCWS on Friday afternoon.
The town of about 2,400 people went on evacuation order Thursday evening, two days after the wildfire was discovered.
As of Friday evening, 90 per cent of the town had left, officials say, urging those who remain to flee immediately and register online or at reception centres in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and Fort St. John, which will open 10 a.m. Saturday.
Tumbler Ridge fire Chief Dustin Curry says about 150 people remained on Friday, some of them emergency personnel, but others residents who refuse to comply with the order to leave.
Those who need hotel accommodation are being asked to go to Fort St. John, 170 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.
Vancouver Island highway shut down indefinitely
On Vancouver Island, the Cameron Bluffs wildfire continues to burn near Port Alberni. The wildfire made its way to Highway 4, prompting the closure of the major east-west route on Tuesday.
It’s now closed indefinitely after officials determined that the fire was causing instability in the incline above the highway, which has caused debris such as uprooted trees and rocks.
“As we approach this weekend and recognizing that Highway 4 will continue to be closed, we just ask people to really consider whether or not they can go or whether or not they can wait,” said Janelle Staite, deputy regional director with the province’s Ministry of Transportation.
The province announced a detour on Wednesday, but cautioned that it should only used for essential travel. The route extends travel time by hours and features rough roads and some single-lane bridges.
The logging-road detour, closed for eight hours Friday as crews worked to extricate a vehicle that rolled into a lake along the route, re-opened at 9 p.m. that evening.
Drought season ahead
While a chance of rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Tumbler Ridge is in an area experiencing drought conditions.
The hottest May on record resulted in a rapid snowmelt and record-low provincial snow levels in most B.C. mountains, according to the Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin.
The bulletin states drought risk has been exacerbated by the lingering effects of the 2022 drought and the high likelihood of above average summer temperatures.
“This is the earliest snowmelt on record ever … Prolonged drought could have major impacts on water availability, on fish and streams and other ecosystems,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.
Forecasts in the Tumbler Ridge region show a chance of rain on Saturday, with temperatures expected to reach 26 C on Sunday and Monday.
Later in the week, temperatures are expected to cool to 17 C with the possibility of rain showers.
Check the CBC News Climate Dashboard for live updates on wildfire smoke and active fires across the country. Set your location for information on air quality and to find out how today’s temperatures compare to historical trends.
‘High risk of province-wide drought’ this summer, authorities warn
Much of B.C. could face a long, significant drought this summer, according to provincial forecasters.
The warning is particularly worrying to those who depend on water for their livelihoods, such as cattle ranchers and the agricultural sector.
“What we’ve seen now from the past month of heat is that the high-elevation snow is rapidly depleting,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre. “We’re on pace to be the earliest snow-free that the province has recorded.
“We’ve had just a phenomenal melt so far, and where it’s a little bit scary is … we’re moving into this year in a really precarious position.”
The most recent B.C. Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, released Thursday based on June 1 data, warned of “long-term, significant drought” unless there is substantial and sustained rainfall over the coming months.
According to provincial data, current snow levels are 29 per cent of what’s normal for this time of year. That’s down from 66 per cent just two weeks ago, indicating a very fast melt.
The possibility of a severe drought comes after high-temperature records for May were smashed in multiple communities across the province, causing faster and earlier snow melt than usual.
While raging wildfires are top-of-mind for many in the province now, a prolonged drought could worsen the economic toll of this year’s extreme hot and dry weather.
‘We are not going to starve our animals’
Previous droughts have hit the province’s agriculture sector particularly hard, with many ranchers forced to cull many of their cattle because of food shortages going into winter.
“It’s a little bit bleak out there right now as we look through the cracked crystal ball we’ve got,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, which represents ranchers. “And we don’t know what’s coming, but it’s enough that we’re concerned.”
He said there are basically two main resources ranchers need to support their herds: grass for food, and water.
“If we don’t get the rain to grow the grass, we have no choice but to reduce the amount of cattle we have,” he told CBC News. “We are not going to starve our animals.
“Unfortunately when we see a widespread drought … often the only opportunity for that breeding stock is to send them to market and to be processed for food, and that is very challenging for our guys that have spent generations building herds.”
In 2021, the provincial and federal governments announced increased supports for the ranching sector, including a more than $100-million boost to the joint AgriRecovery fund, supports for cattle relocated by wildfires, and a Wildfire Emergency Feed Program to offer two weeks of support for commercial livestock businesses without feed.
“In our industry we’ve developed a very good infrastructure for water storage,” Boon, himself a long-time rancher, said. “Water storage is the key to everything out here right now, as we see climate change and climate adaptation — the more we store, the more we’re able to manage.”
The B.C. report released this week warns of “severe water availability concerns” for human use.
The drought concerns are especially for the province’s Northeast, North Peace, Vancouver Island, South Coast, Southern Interior, Kootenay, and Columbia regions.
“If we continue this for another three or four months, we could be in a situation come September or October like we were last year, but potentially even worse,” the River Forecast Centre’s Boyd said.
“It becomes an issue for fish and and other stream ecosystems — and an issue for water availability and just extreme, extreme low flows.”
Canada's visaless entry system crashes, leaving many travellers stranded – CBC.ca
The collapse of the website that processes Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs) has caused missed flights, stress and financial pain to many travellers trying to reach Canada.
This week, Canada expanded the number of countries eligible for the eTA system, which replaces a full visa requirement for countries whose citizens are considered at lower risk of overstaying. Travellers from these countries pay a $7 Cdn fee and fill out an online application in a process that would normally take just minutes.
“This exciting development means that more individuals from around the world can now embark on unforgettable adventures, explore our diverse landscapes, reunite with family and friends, and immerse themselves in our vibrant culture without the hurdle of visa requirements,” said a statement from Sean Fraser, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which oversees the eTA system.
But the immediate effect of the change was the opposite.
A predictable surge, not predicted
IRCC appears not to have anticipated that adding 13 new countries with a combined population of over a quarter of a billion people would lead to a sudden surge in applications, but that’s what happened.
A spokesperson for IRCC said the biggest spike in applications came from the Philippines.
Servers were overwhelmed and the collapse of the system affected not only applicants from the 13 new countries, but from others that were already in the eTA system.
British citizen Amy Monerawela was scheduled to travel to Toronto with her family from London, England, but they were unable to get through the eTA site.
“We’ve had four people working on it since this morning,” she told CBC News on Friday evening from her London home. “And I mean sat around this table working on it from different devices, with different operating systems and different browsers. None of us are technophobes, we know what we’re doing, and we’ve not been able to crack it.”
“We got through to the payment page once, and when we went to put the card details in, it refreshed the page and kicked us out.”
Users reported several different problems with the site, including crashes, freezes and various error messages.
Cancellations come with heavy costs
Monerawela says that between their non-refundable Air Transat flights and a prepaid Airbnb, her family will lose thousands of dollars. They will also miss the chance to see family in Canada for the first time since the pandemic began.
One of their daughters is wheelchair bound and has other medical issues that make travel very difficult, she explained. The family had already paid to forward some medical items their daughter needs to Toronto.
Gabriel Contreras already missed his flight from Spain to visit a sister who lives in Canada. He was refused boarding on the first leg of the trip from Madrid to Amsterdam because of the eTA issue.
He said that even if the problem were fixed tomorrow, he and his travel partner would have to buy two new tickets for 970 euros each. The new flights would end up costing him more than $2,700 Cdn.
“That’s way too much for us,” said Contreras, who noted that since he only has one week off for travel, he’s decided to cancel his visit rather than rebook.
“The whole process has been jarring,” he told CBC News, saying his impression of IRCC was “really bad” and that “We’re a bit mad about the whole thing.”
Contreras says he will try to recover the lost money from travel insurance.
Lack of communication from IRCC, travellers say
Some travellers complained about the lack of communication from IRCC, noting that it had failed to respond to phone calls or tweets.
According to passengers, the eTA site stopped working properly on Thursday. IRCC posted a tweet around noon on Friday acknowledging the problem:
“Online service for eTA applications is currently intermittently available. Please try again later. We appreciate your patience. Travellers are still required to have the appropriate travel documents to travel to or transit through Canada.”
When is this going to be fixed? It makes so sense- people can’t enter Canada without paying this $7 yet its an issue with your server?
“How can this still be required if it’s impossible to access?” responded one frustrated traveller.
Other responses included: “My 17 year old brother’s eTA hasn’t come back and we fly in 9 hours ?!?!?!?!?! What do we do, such bad customer service – no response from your webform!”
“Because of this my friend was not allowed on his $1,000 USD flight,” wrote another. “We had to cancel all our other flights and plans in Canada, costing us another $500 USD. The Canadian embassy said the online application is the only way. You should have a back-up in case this happened.”
“The hardship you caused to travellers is immense,” wrote another person. “All the pain just to collect $7.”
Some of the passengers who missed flights said they weren’t even planning to stay in the country, but were merely transiting through Canada on layovers to other destinations such as Australia.
“Embarrassing that you even need a visa to transit through Canada,” one person complained.
‘I think they don’t care’
Some travellers also expressed annoyance to CBC News at IRCC’s unwillingness to waive the $7 fee, allow people to complete the forms on arrival, or offer any kind of alternative that would have saved their travel plans.
“I tried to contact them over the phone,” said Monerawela. “I got sent to a webpage. They haven’t tweeted back to anybody. I think they don’t care, that’s how it feels. They don’t care how this is affecting people’s lives, people’s finances.”
On Friday evening, some passengers attempting to obtain eTAs reported receiving a message in response suggesting repairs might not be coming for days.
A note explains that IRCC will “perform updates to its online system” from 12 am to 5:30 am on June 13.
“The eTA application will not be available at that time. We apologize for the inconvenience. To apply for an eTA, please return after 5:30 am on June 13.”
CBC News was seeking clarification from IRCC on the precise meaning of that note at the time of publication.
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