"No One Is Illegal": The Fight for Refugee and Migrant Rights in Canada. (Roundtable Report)
Lowry, Michelle, Nyers, Peter, Refuge
On 8 December 2002, a roundtable discussion was held with members of the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians (Montreal), the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (Toronto), and No One Is Illegal (Montreal). In this transcription of the discussion, the non-status Algerian refugees share their experiences of living in Canada without formal status, a situation which they characterize as being degrading, unlivable, and absurd. The participants discuss the possibilities for organizing opposition to increasingly restrictive and repressive refugee and immigration policies. They examine the viability of anti-deportation campaigns, direct action casework, and the prospects for a broad-based movement in defence of refugee and migrant rights.
Le 8 decembre 2002 a eu lieu une table ronde reunissant des membres du Comite d'action des sans-statut Algeriens (Montreal), la Coalition ontarienne contre la pauvrete (Toronto) et No One is Illegal (<< Personne n'est illegal >>) (Montreal). Ce qui suit est une transcription des discussions qui ont eu lieu, au cours desquelles les Algeriens sans statut partagent leur experience de la vie au Canada sans un statut reconnu, une situation qu'ils qualifient de degradante, invivable et absurde. Les participants examinent les possibilites d'organiser une opposition aux politiques en matiere d'immigration et du traitement des refugies qui deviennent de plus en plus repressives et restrictives. Ils explorent la viabilite des campagnes anti-deportation, l'action directe et les possibilites d'organiser un mouvement rassembleur pour la defense des droits des refugies et des migrants.
On 20 October 2002, an Algerian family facing imminent deportation from Canada--Mourad Bourouisa, Yakout Seddiki (who was fifteen weeks into a high-risk pregnancy), and their two-year-old Canadian-born son, Ahmed--made international headlines by taking sanctuary in a downtown Montreal church. Like thousands of other Algerians, the family had fled violence and conflict to seek refuge in Canada. But while their individual claims for refugee status were rejected, they had remained in Canada. They stayed because the situation in Algeria was so dangerous that Immigration Canada prohibited all removals there--that is, until April 2002, when the moratorium on deportations was lifted. This move came on the same day that the Canadian government issued an advisory warning its citizens not to travel to Algeria. With an end to the moratorium, approximately 1,069 Algerians whose refugee claims had been denied were to be returned to a country deemed too dangerous for Canadians. The timing of the lifting of the moratorium also coincided with the Canadian Prime Minister's trade mission to Algeria that drummed up millions of dollars in trade between the two countries. (1)
The case of the Bourouisa/Seddiki family became a rallying point for campaigns opposing deportations to Algeria. The Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians (a self-organized group of Algerian refugees in Montreal) stepped up their campaign to raise public awareness about their situation and to organize a political and legal response. Eleven days into the Bourouisa/Seddiki family's flight into sanctuary, the Canadian and Quebec governments responded to this so-called "extraordinary situation" by granting a ninety-day stay on deportations and an opportunity for all non-status Algerians to make in-land applications for permanent residence. This concession fell far short of a general amnesty as it excluded those who: lived outside of Quebec; had a criminal record, however minor; had already received deportation orders or had been deported; and could not afford to pay the expensive application fees. Undeterred, the non-status Algerians, together with allies, have continued to fight for their right to stay in Canada. Their demands to the Canadian and Quebec governments are threefold: (1) an immediate end to all deportations; (2) a return to the moratorium on removals to Algeria; (3) the regularization of non-status residents in Canada. …