Monica Bassili writes a weekly column for
BIPOC Bipoc Women Blog

Sisterhood of the Travelling Paperwork

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Across the globe, women and their children apply for asylum, refuge, and migrant status in Canada. From racialized women in the Horn of Africa to those travelling from Western Europe, Canada is accepting of migrants irrespective of race. However, with the erasure of race during the immigration process in Canada, the systemic barriers against racialized women and children are often ignored. 

Behind the paperwork and processing fees, there are human beings doing their best to establish themselves in a new town, city, and continent. Taking this risk is not easy, the process involves costly fees, security measures, and other forms of paperwork which prolong immigration processing. This year, Canada’s immigration system and many other Western immigration systems are experiencing three unique challenges: Covid-19, the consequences of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, and the Ukrainian-Russian War. 


International Conflicts and Covid-19


The first being last year’s events in Afghanistan which was largely orchestrated by the United States abrupt departure from the region. In response, Canada’s immigration processing in the region urgently shifted to promise the arrival of 40,000 Afghan refugees. It is important to note that processing standards in Canada now heavily rely on reliable identification documents, of which are likely to have been destroyed or never been established in Afghanistan. Coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, Canada’s processing of immigration applications has been impacted both in capacity and in turbulent global conflicts.


Similar to challenges faced by Somalian refugees, there is a significant lack of documentation produced by these governments to facilitate international migration. Only one look at Canada’s eTA (Electronic Travel Document) versus Visa required countries paints a clear picture of how colonialism and imperialism have degraded countries deemed “uncivilized” and those often housing racialized peoples. 


Notably, an eTA takes approximately 5 minutes to process online. Among those countries are Belgium, Britain, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, and other countries Canada has deemed “safe” for quick processing. For those requiring Visas for travel to Canada, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria are among the countries deemed “unsafe” and require a longer processing time. For instance, in Nigera, processing a Visa takes approximately 92 days, as opposed to the 5 minutes if you had the privilege of living in a “safe” country. 


Ukraine and Russian War


In contrast, Canada’s response to Ukraininan refugees has been seen as a positive immigration service in which two groups of white people are experiencing war in Eastern Europe. For many Canadians, in this case I am referring to Canadians of European descent, there is a tendency to be more accepting towards refugees that look like you, those who are white and may embody similar experiences. 


As a result, there is greater concern towards Afghan refugees due to the proximity and intensity of Islamist violence. The ethnic and religious divides in the region are unfamiliar and unstable to Canadians, meaning there are increased security measures for Afghan refugees. Notably, gender inqualities in Afghanistan pose an additional barrier to women and their children to internationally migrate. 


The Sisterhood of the Travelling Paperwork


Unlike the happy, thin, and objectively beautiful white women in the film Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, racialized women experience a much different fate. Rather than a secondhand pear of perfectly fitting jeans to keep eachother connected, racialized women are tied to their immigration paperwork. One refusal, one delay, or one expired medical or biometric exam puts migrant women and children in precarious situations.


In addition to the lack of notice to migrant women and children on their immigration applications, there are situations in which migrants on Maintained Status (formerly Implied Status) cannot leave Canada without their processed applications. Maintained Status refers to the expiry of a migrant’s Canadian status while their new application is still in progress. As a result, visiting sick family, attending a funeral, or caring for friends and families abroad is not a realistic opportunity for those experiencing delayed processing. 

With over 2 million applications in Canada’s immigration backlog, more support should be given to racialized women and children. Despite the current geopolitics conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Russia, there are countless global conflicts that fail to meet the media’s standards. The Tigray genocide in northern Ethiopia, the Darfur genocide in South Sudan, and even Canada’s domestic genocide of Indigenous women and children takes the backseat as they embody racialized peoples. Banding together as peoples already safe and inhabiting Canada is key to pushing for accessible, affordable, and reasonable processing of Canadian immigration applications.



Read more here:


Crossing Borders: Supporting Women and Girls in Afghanistan


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