Solidarity across Borders: Fighting for Justice and Dignity for Refugees and Immigrants

By Gomez, Tatiana | Canadian Dimension, January-February 2006 | Go to article overview

Solidarity across Borders: Fighting for Justice and Dignity for Refugees and Immigrants


Gomez, Tatiana, Canadian Dimension


Canada tends to take pride in its humanitarian tradition of providing protection to thousands of refugees who fear persecution, or who are at risk of torture or cruel and unusual treatment. Despite this popular image, however, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) are both highly flawed institutions, which often fail to protect those seeking asylum.

For example, members of Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), a Montreal-based coalition of self-organized refugees and their allies, recently received a call from Lilia Diaz. Telephoning in tears from Mexico, Diaz told us that she and her family are living clandestinely in the constant fear of being discovered and attacked, since their deportation from Canada this past summer back to the country they had fled.

They came to Canada in 2001 seeking refugee status, but found to their surprise that their refugee status was denied. When the order for their deportation was issued, the family chose to defy it. They opted instead to live underground without rights, without access to health care, services, or decent work, and with the constant anxiety of being discovered by Immigration authorities. Eventually they were discovered and returned to Mexico. Accused of denouncing police officers for rape and murder, Diaz and her family are now being hunted by the Mexican judiciary police. For Lilia Diaz and her family, the Canadian deportation order amounts to a death sentence.

The ordeal of Lilia Diaz and her family is the daily reality for up to 400,000 refugees living without status in Canada. This is because the Refugee Protection Act makes it more difficult to obtain status, while at the same time making detentions and deportations easier. In the political context since 9/11, where immigration policies are being harmonized with so-called "anti-terrorist" policies, the exclusionary, discriminatory and even racist nature of these laws is being exacerbated.

Two aspects of this new situation are worth highlighting. The first is the unprecedented powers that are now being granted to police and immigration authorities, which are leading to a greater tendency to criminalize non-status people and to increase the number of unfair detentions and deportations. The Security Certificate, for instance, allows for the arbitrary and indefinite detention of non-citizens based upon secret evidence. Those detained need not be charged and are without access to a fair trial under threat of deportation. Suspending all civil liberties and due process, the Security Certificate has been used to detain six men, five of whom are of Muslim or Arab origin. In this context, immigrant and refugee communities are the targets of policies that not only fail to protect those seeking asylum, but that offer evidence for the exclusionary criteria and systemic racism of Immigration Canada.

A second aspect is the new, so-called Safe Third Country Agreement. This agreement, which came into effect in December, 2004, prohibits any refugee from making a claim in Canada if they have entered by way of a safe third country, like the United States. This rule is likely to reduce the number of refugee claimants by up to 40 per cent.

Born out of the struggles of refugee communities in Montreal against such anti-immigration policies, the Solidarity Across Borders coalition has been organizing for justice and dignity for immigrants, migrants and refugees for over two years. Most notably, this past summer SAB organized the No One Is Illegal March on Ottawa, which took place from June 18 to 25. The march followed in the footsteps of the historic marches that preceded it, like the 1935 "On to Ottawa" Trek, where unemployed workers won the first unemployment insurance program in Canada; as well as the 1995 Bread and Roses march, where Quebec women marched against poverty. The No One Is Illegal March is part of a growing world-wide movement fighting for status for all. …

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