The Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees was formedby a group of Palestinian refugees with the help of organizers from No Oneis Illegal and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights in Montreal. TheCoalition immediately found that there are a significant number ofrefugees set for deportation and a large number awaiting their first courtdate.
The struggle of the Palestinian refugees is very similar to that of thenon-status Algerians.(http://www.rabble.ca/rabble_interview.shtml?x=17817) The anti-G8protests in Ottawa last year raised the No One is Illegal demand around thestruggle of the Algerians, and the Palestinian Refugees will raise theNo One is Illegal demand at the upcoming Popular Mobilization Against theWTO in Montreal (July 27).
Members of the Coalition visited Toronto for the al-Awda (www.al-awda.ca)Palestinian Right of Return Conference in June 2003, where they wereinterviewed. One of the members of the Coalition will remain nameless forfear of persecution by the immigration authorities. Rabie Masri is activein Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (Montreal) and Stefan Christoffworks with No One Is Illegal (Montreal).
Can you describe the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Montreal?
The Palestinian refugees from Montreal are mostly from the refugee campsof Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and had comethroughout the 1990s. They are claiming refugee status here in Canada.Some of the claims have been accepted. After September 11, 2001, therejection rate started to rise and many were rejected, even though thesituation in the camps had not changed at all.
After 9/11, there were new judges dealing with the refugee claims, andthese new judges rejected many claims. Many who have been rejected havereceived deportation orders.
What is your sense of the kinds of numbers we are talking about?
That we have met — and these are not official numbers — there are over 100facing deportation. We think there must be many in Toronto in the same situation.
The situation of Palestinian refugees is unique, isn’t it?
Palestinians are a stateless people. We have no home, no land. Whatevercountry they came from, they are refugees. So we are accused of “shoppingfor citizenship”. But what are stateless people supposed to do? Ofcourse a stateless person needs to shop for citizenship and has the rightto do so!
If you look at the article, Promises of an Unpredictable Future byJordan Topp of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Montreal,you can get a sense of what people are suffering as they try to flee thecamps in Lebanon. Talking about the Bourj el Barajneh camp near Beirut,she says: “Families in the camp have literally sold their houses andjewelry to send their sons on these illegal crossings. Many have beenreturned to the camp, often after being jailed, sometimes tortured inprison, and even shot at while crossing borders illegally. Yet, peoplestill feel the risk (both monetarily and physically) is better than theother option: staying here.”
People who try to go through Europe, the way Jordan’s article describes,are hunted. And people here are hunted too. One member of our group isterrified of police. Heâe(TM)s not done anything wrong, never harmed a flea,and heâe(TM)s terrified. He needed to see a doctor once, they gave him anappointment, but he was afraid to go back. He came here to Canada at 20years old. He had spent the first 20 years of his life in a refugee camp.After three years here, the Canadian government is trying to deport him. Hisbrother spent seven years trying to get a refugee claim in Europe, and wasfinally accepted here. So we have a situation where one brother is beingdeported and the other has been accepted. They are from the same camp,the same family, in Ein-el-Helweh in Lebanon. How objective a claimsprocess is it where one brother can be accepted and another rejected?
Another problem for us is the “safe third country” agreement betweenCanada and the United States. Many of the refugees came to Canada throughthe United States after the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, for unknown reasons,granted a large number of visas to Palestinian refugees in the late 1990s.With the “safe third country” agreement, if the U.S. rejects your refugeeclaim Canada rejects it as well, and youâe(TM)re supposed to be deported toyour home country. The United States has not been deporting Palestiniansback to the Occupied Territories, because it wonâe(TM)t recognize Palestine.So we could be deported to the United States and detained, like the 13,000(low estimate) who were detained by the Department of Homeland Securitywhen they came forward to register.
Tell us more about the judges and the process of accepting or rejectingclaims.
The judges on the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) were subjective,biased, and showed a lack of understanding of the law and of the situationon the ground in Lebanon and in the Occupied Territories. In some cases,the judges acted as if the hearing was an interrogation, attacking theclaimantsâe(TM) credibility.
In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are barred from pursuing 78 differentprofessions. Restricted, essentially, to hard labour. So the IRB askedone of the claimants why he had been studying engineering, since he wouldnot be allowed to work as an engineer in Lebanon!
In another case, there was some delay in processing some paperwork,because there is no mail system in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Oneclaimant explained this, and the IRB said he was lying.
One of the refugees came through Turkey, and the IRB judge asked why theclaimant did not apply for refugee status there. Others, who had appliedfor visas in Syria, were asked why they didnâe(TM)t claim refugee status inTurkey. The claimants and their lawyers tried to explain to the judgesthat neither Turkey nor Syria were giving Palestinians any recognizedstatus.
Judges have asked refugees their political views and their opinions on theconflict in the Middle East.
Other judges have taken clear political positions on the conflict, saying, “The panel believes that, on a whole, documentary evidence indicatesthat the violence in the Middle East is part of Israelâe(TM)s attempts atestablishing secure political frontiers and preventing terrorist attackson its territory. Documentary evidence does not reveal that there existsa systematic will on the part of the Israeli military authorities tosystematically persecute and exterminate the Palestinian population whiledoing so, despite the horrors caused in the war-torn areas.” This is apolitical position undermining the position of the Canadian government andthe United Nations.
Had the judges asked the questions they should have asked, what would theyhave learned? What would they have concluded?
You can see that by looking at the judgements of those who did accept theclaims. One judge said, “I don’t need to test the credibility of thisrefugee — if this person is a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, that isenough.”
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not have rights to employment, areforced to work illegally, with some 60-80 per cent living in poverty. They areforbidden from owning property, with insufficient space and hazardousenvironmental conditions. They have no political rights, freedom ofexpression, association, movement. No rights to education, health care,or social security.
Is this attitude from the judges a reflection of changes in the law, orprocedure?
There are some changes, like the “anti-terrorism” legislation, that havecreated a climate that have made deportations easier. The Palestinianrefugees are not being deported on “security certificates”, though. (seehttp://www.en-camino.org/june032003csis1.htm for one security certificatecase) They are just being treated that way.
Part of this climate is that these IRB judges have apparently received“training” on “terrorism”. Weâe(TM)ve heard that the trainers are CSIS. CSISare the people who are advocating for the security certificates in thefirst place. This doesnâe(TM)t help.
One serious legal issue is the appeals process. In the law, there issupposed to be an appeal board, but this has never been put in force. Byputting all the power into a single judgeâe(TM)s hands, theyâe(TM)re creating asystemic problem. Then they can say that itâe(TM)s “human error” and justifyexclusions and deportations. The error is in the system itself. Itâe(TM)s akind of institutional racism.
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are facing what amounts to acampaign of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli military. Here in Canada, thegovernment is trying to deport them. It reminds me of Charlie Smokeâe(TM)scase — he is an indigenous man who Canada wanted to deport to the UnitedStates, but the United States didnâe(TM)t want him, and he doesnâe(TM)t recognizethe authority of either state!(http://thunderbay.indymedia.org/news/2002/11/2132.php)
Yes, and for Palestinians there is no contradiction between demanding theright of return on the one hand, and seeking security and refugee statuson the other. Refugees are seeking protection of their civil and humanrights.
If there is hypocrisy, it is on the part of the Canadian state. Canadahas corporations arming and funding the Israeli stateâe(TM)s assaults. Youhave CAE that is selling flight simulators to Israel. Canadian HighwaysInternational that is building Israelâe(TM)s transnational highway andexpropriating Palestinian lands. The Canadian government has not taken aclear stand on the right of return and is now trying to deport Palestinianrefugees. Supporting Israel in creating refugees on the one hand andtrying to deport the refugees on the other. Thatâe(TM)s hypocrisy.
On another level, Canada presents this public image as a greathumanitarian country that opens its gates to refugees. This gives peoplehope, they come here, and they find their hopes taken away.
What are the Coalitionâe(TM)s Demands? How have they been received? How canpeople help?
We have two demands: first, stop all deportations immediately. Second,regularization. Accept the refugee claims.
We had considered making a third demand — that the arrogant judges bedeported instead of the refugees, or that a new test be imposed on the IRBjudges: that they spend a week living as Palestinians in Ein-el-Helwehcamp, after which if they still want to deport us weâe(TM)ll all go back.
But to be serious, the response from the authorities has beendisappointing. They have been stringing us along. There was somecommunication with the Immigration Ministerâe(TM)s office and various membersof Parliament, who promised us a meeting. They promised us a meeting andasked that we not go public. They told us to stay calm. Itâe(TM)s as if theywant us to stay calm while they quietly deport us.
We arenâe(TM)t going to get the time of day from the Immigration Ministerâe(TM)soffice unless this becomes a public issue with public support. So we arelooking to reach out to organizations and individuals, to makepresentations, to do events, assemblies, pickets, delegations. Thatâe(TM)swhere people can help. You can reach us at [email protected] or call usat 514-591-3171