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Canadian Family Takes In Manus Refugee Left Behind By Australia

"There's a period of enormous elation that you're safe, then the guilt... 'why me?'"

08/11/2017 1:22 PM AEDT | Updated 08/11/2017 1:22 PM AEDT
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Amir (centre) with Wayne and Linda Taylor, after arriving in Canada

A Canadian family which has taken in an Iranian refugee left languishing on Manus Island have spoken of their relief in getting him out of Papua New Guinea, but say they're sad because they couldn't do more to help hundreds of men left behind.

As reported by HuffPost Australia this week, Amir Taghinia, a 24-year-old man who spent four years on Manus, arrived in Vancouver last week after a mammoth paperwork and bureaucratic process instigated by the Taylor family.

Chelsea Taylor, a Canadian citizen living in Melbourne, met Amir while working as a nurse on Manus several years ago and kept in touch with him since.

Canada has a popular and successful policy which allows private sponsorship of refugees. Under the program, the sponsoring family or organisation takes responsibility for providing food, accommodation and living expenses, assisting with enrolling in healthcare and education, finding local doctors, and helping with employment searches.

Chelsea and her family living in Canada -- Australian-born father Wayne, and his wife Linda -- teamed up with community organisations and other residents in their town of Coquitlam to sponsor Amir.

"I approached my dad, who is a human rights activist and politically involved, that was how it started. We realised organisations would sponsor [a refugee] but they needed a sponsoring group who were obligated to pull together some money for a year to bring someone over," Chelsea told HuffPost Australia.

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"We brought together a group of people, now known as the Amir group. There was lots of paperwork. Amir was doing his papers off a little Samsung phone in the detention centre, I really don't know how he did it."

The paperwork was submitted in July 2016 and accepted in September. Chelsea said that was quick, making a wry joke that Canada probably doesn't get many applications to resettle refugees from Australia. Amir got his final approvals and left PNG last week.

"We're told this happened quickly. It took four years, but this took about 16 months for us," Chelsea said.

Amir's resettlement in Canada was revealed just days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected New Zealand's offer to take 150 of the men on Manus.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said that Taghinia's case showed why Australia needed to urgently explore third-country resettlement options for the men on Manus, saying the Canadian example was "a precedent it could and should extend to those suffering on Manus and Nauru".

"Amir's Canadian sponsorship demonstrates clearly that it is entirely possible for third countries to step in and provide a workable solution to the current crisis on Manus," said ASRC director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero.

Amir is now classed as a permanent resident of Canada, with work, medical and social benefits, and lives with Chelsea's parents -- "he's very much part of my family, he's calling them mum and dad," Chelsea laughed.

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Amir enjoying a meal with the Taylors

'None Of This Is Fair'

While Chelsea said Amir is settling into life in Canada, she said both he and the family have been left distraught over the men remaining on Manus.

Around 600 refugees and asylum seekers remain in PNG after the formerly Australian-run centre was officially closed last week.

Power, water and food have been cut off in an attempt by local PNG authorities to force residents to move to other nearby accommodation complexes.

The United Nations reported last week that at least one of these three new facilities is not finished, while the other two still lack security fences.

"I've worked in refugee health for a long time. This is a very unique situation but we see this for any refugee left, there's a period of enormous elation that you're safe, then the guilt -- 'why me?' That enormous connection to the people you've left behind, it doesn't go away," Chelsea said.

"We talked about that for a long time prior to him leaving PNG. That's a normal reaction, and there are support mechanisms and mental health services in Canada he will be eligible to receive support from. That will be part of the journey and we're prepared for that. It's hard.

"It's not fair, none of this is fair."

She said the family, too, had struggled with only being able to help one person.

"We had to, through this process, put our blinders on a bit and say 'we had to get him out, he's our number one focus.' That's often gone through my head, my dad has struggled with that as well. One of the members of the organisation was at the airport when Amir arrived in Canada, and I said 'one down, a few hundred to go'," Chelsea said.

"We're incredibly upset and angry about what's going on on Manus, but we've had to be realistic about what we can achieve. We will continue to lobby and speak out and support the men on Manus, but we had to tackle what we could, and now use this as a precedent, to show what can be done.

"We're just a small group with no power. Anyone can do this."

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