Ottawa is moving to make it easier for family members of victims aboard Flight 752, shot down by Iran a year ago, to get permanent residency in Canada amid fears for their safety.

The policy would be open to family members of victims both living in Canada with temporary status and living abroad. It would also be accessible to family members of the victims killed in the 2019 Ethiopian Flight 302 crash, according to a statement to the Star from the federal immigration ministry.

The policy was borne out of conversations with victims’ families and a desire to unite them with each other in the wake of the tragedy which took place exactly one year ago Friday, Marco Mendicino, the federal minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship, told the Star during an interview.

There’s also concern for the safety of family members who are living in Iran, he said.

“There is no doubt that this tragedy comes against the backdrop of the Iranian regime, who we will continue to pursue for accountability,” Mendicino said.

Mendicino added that “immediate family members and potentially other (family members)” of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who were on the plane would be allowed to access the pathway to permanent residency. He said that details are still being worked out around eligibility and a more fleshed out plan is expected from the federal government in the coming months.

Iranian forces shot down Ukrainian Flight 752 one year ago, killing 176 people, including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents of Canada.

Iran denied responsibility at first, but after international pressure said human error was the cause of the incident. The Canadian government has voiced skepticism about the country’s version of events and Iran has faced widespread criticism for carrying out its investigations internally and not being transparent.

Pegah Salari, a member of Edmonton’s Iranian community who has worked with the families of the victims over the last year, called the policy a “nice gesture” but noted that family members live in fear in Iran due to ongoing harassment and threats for speaking out from the regime.

Who the government considers an “immediate” family member will be crucial as well since sometimes a cousin can play a large role in a family and be targeted by the Iranian regime for speaking out about the tragedy, she said.

“I think it should be more defined by the relationship and the involvement of those individuals in Iran,” Salari said.

“Because I know of aunts, and uncles and cousins that are being harassed and tormented and brought in for questioning.”

Salari said she couldn’t guess how many people the new policy would impact, noting that some already live outside Iran. Even some who do live there may want to stay, she added, especially if they have a child buried in the country.

Too much publicity around the move by the Canadian government could become a concern, she said, since Iran can attempt to keep people from leaving even if the federal government grants them permanent residency.

“There cannot be that much transparency around it,” Salari said. “If they do, (Iran) is going to make sure they are going to arrest them, they’re going to make them disappear.

“Worse things can happen to these families.”

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Farnoosh Mostaed

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