‘It’s like sending someone to the gallows’

Protesters say deportation to Somalia puts lives at risk


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Some refugee claimants who came to Winnipeg from the United States are getting nervous about reports of border agents rounding up community members and deporting them to Somalia — a place Canadians are told to avoid.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2019 (1240 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some refugee claimants who came to Winnipeg from the United States are getting nervous about reports of border agents rounding up community members and deporting them to Somalia — a place Canadians are told to avoid.

“It’s like sending someone to the gallows,” said Abdikheir Ahmed, director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, who was born in Somalia and came to Canada as a refugee. “In the last year, I’ve seen that there have been a lot more deportations.”

So far in 2019, 15 men have been deported to Somalia from Winnipeg without proper travel documents, Yahya Hashim, Somali Community Centre’s program manager, said in an interview Thursday prior to a protest held in Central Park.

Photos by MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Protesters rally in Central Park Thursday, saying it is not safe for the Canada Border Services Agency to send people back to Somalia.

Refugee claimants who grew up in the U.S. and got in trouble with the law in that country are being removed by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) — even if they’ve been law-abiding taxpayers for years, Hashim said.

With no direct flights to lawless, violent Somalia from Canada or the U.S., deportees are flown to Kenya by way of Europe, then put on a flight to the capital, Mogadishu, Hashim said.

The “scary part” is what happens to the westernized deportees when they arrive in Somalia, where they haven’t lived for decades and no longer have ties, he said.

A man deported from the U.S. in January was killed in a bombing in Mogadishu, Hashim said.

The Canadian government, which has no presence in Somalia, warns on its website of “anti-western sentiment” and westerners being targeted by Al-Shabaab terrorists.

“When a passenger is dropped at the airport, it’s not like the government is welcoming them,” Hashim said.

“The chance of you not surviving is very high,” Ahmed said. “There’s a real danger if you’re speaking English and from a western country.”

One local man going public with his concern is Abdirahman Ahmed. The 39-year-old faces deportation and doesn’t like his odds of survival in the country that he left at age seven, when his family found refuge in the U.S.

He said he has a criminal conviction that resulted from fights 20 years ago, but hasn’t been in trouble since.

“I changed,” said Ahmed, who came to Canada in 2017 after the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. He asked for refugee protection, but was rejected.

Since arriving in Winnipeg, he’s worked pumping gas and is looking for another job — while looking over his shoulder to see if the CBSA is about to swoop down. On Thursday, Ahmed decided not to lay low, and attended the downtown demonstration with about a dozen protesters.

“I’m here so I can speak out about people getting shipped out,” he said in front of newspaper and TV cameras.

Somalia’s capital and other parts of the failed state are so dangerous, they’re on the federal government’s administrative deferral of removals list of “situations of humanitarian crisis.” They are deemed too dangerous to send rejected refugee claimants — unless they have a criminal record in the U.S. that could’ve netted them a stiff sentence, no matter the actual sentence or recent good behaviour.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Abdirahman Ahmed speaks to reporters at a rally against deportation of Somalis in Winnipeg on Thursday.

“I don’t consider that an appropriate exclusion,” Winnipeg human rights and immigration lawyer David Matas said.

Refugee claimants who are considered dangerous are jailed until they’re removed to Somalia. That’s fair because the danger to them being taken to Somalia is balanced by the danger they pose to Canada, “but even people that don’t pose a danger to Canada at all, they become removable,” Matas said. “It’s an arbitrary form of removal.”

Ahmed of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg said the federal government isn’t specifically targeting Somalis for removal. There just happens to be a high percentage of Somali refugee claimants in Winnipeg because its close to Minneapolis, which is home to the largest Somali community in the U.S.

The Canadian Council for Refugees said the CBSA budget for removals was increased, and it is seeing an overall increase in people being called for removal.

“Although Canada doesn’t generally deport to most areas of Somalia due to the extreme insecurity, that suspension does not apply to people with even minor criminality,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the advocacy group based in Montreal.

“This leads to people being deported, even though what they did was quite minor, or happened a long time ago, and even though the risk to their lives may be very great.”

According to an email statement from a CBSA spokesman: “The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly… Prior to removal, individuals may seek leave for judicial review, as well as administrative review procedures that assess the potential risk to the person of returning to the country of origin. Pre-removal risk assessment is one of the safeguards in place to ensure people in need of protection are not removed.”


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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