By Allan Woods Toronto Star, June 11, 2011
OTTAWA—The United States government has quietly scrapped a popular exchange program for teens from Afghanistan after watching scores of students flee to Canada as refugees rather than return home.
The defections from the State Department's Youth Exchange and Study (YES) initiative have been occurring since 2005, the second year the program was offered. But they reached the breaking point this year when more than half of the 40 Afghans brought in to attend U.S. high schools vanished.
A Toronto Star investigation has tracked a number of those students to refugee shelters in Fort Erie, Ont., high schools in St. Catharines, universities and provincial government jobs in Toronto, apartments in Burnaby, B.C., and elsewhere in Canada. The newest arrivals are collecting welfare as they attend school and work their way through the immigration system...
The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. is meant to prevent asylum seekers from using one country as a step in their bid to get refugee status in the other. Afghan adults would be barred from entering Canada unless there was a family member willing to sponsor them.
But these minors — most instructed by their families not to return home — are allowed immediate entry. As a result, they come to Canada alone. Their stay in the U.S. may have taken care of culture shock, but cooking, budgeting or caring for themselves remain foreign concepts.
Oops! This was certainly not the way it was supposed to work. These young people were not supposed to come across the Peace Bridge into Canada; they were supposed to stay in the U.S., go back to Afghanistan and become ambassadors for the U.S. in that country.
Maybe that motive, itself, has something to do with the exodus from the U.S. program.
There is a long history of the U.S. trying to "buy" a good reputation, in whatever ways it can. Try doing things for different motives...and even don't try so hard...perhaps...and maybe the world's next generations will see the U.S. differently.
As for Canada, one has to wonder if these defections will cause a little turbulence in relations with Washington. It is such a small number, and the suspending of the program fits well into the U.S. budget cuts.