Third hunger strike this year highlights despair of Canada's detained migrants

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Image: Ello/@MrKeating

On October 17, 17 immigration detainees at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario began refusing food, just two months after nearly 60 immigration detainees in two Ontario facilities ended a 19-day hunger strike protesting the indefinite detention of migrants.

The hunger strike is the third of its kind this year, and detainees' demands remain unchanged: an end to indefinite detention of migrants with a 90-day limit on detentions as an interim measure.

"We want an end to indefinite detention, we don't want to be locked up in maximum security prisons, [and] we want real access to effective legal remedies to contest our detention," stated one of the strike organizers, according to a No One Is Illegal press release.

"Not only are these completely understandable demands, but the 90-day demand falls in with American, European and international law. If another person has to die because the government doesn't take action -- we've had three deaths this year --  is that what this takes?" MacDonald Scott, an immigration consultant and organizer with No One Is Illegal, told rabble in a telephone interview.

Hunger strike highlights injustice of indefinite detention

Kashif Ali is one of the detainees on strike. Ali, a 50-year old Ghanaian asylum seeker, has been in immigration detention for a total of 12 years.

"I swear every night I sleep three or four hours, I don't know if I will be released or put on a plane. They are making me go crazy, I can't sleep, I am depressed, I have stomach problems. People like me, I am not fighting them, but we can't be deported, we should be released, given ID and papers and the support to work. This is why I am going hungry," Ali explained in a No One Is Illegal press release.

Ali is one of many detainees who cannot be deported from Canada but remain in detention centres. Between 2006 and 2014, Canada jailed 87,317 migrants without charges. Migrants are the only population in Canada subjected to imprisonment on administrative grounds.

Canada is one of a small number of countries that has not legislated a time limit on immigration detention. Once detained, migrants have limited access to family, legal counsel, and third-party monitoring agencies.

Last year, the United Nations published a report condemning Canada's practice of immigration detentionand urged Canada to adopt a 90-day limit on detentions.

"I don't think people should have to spend five years in jail for what's an administrative offence. People certainly shouldn't be dying in the jails, and that's what happens when you put people in jail and you don't know when they'll get out," Scott explained to rabble.

At least 13 immigration detainees have died in detention since 2000, including three this year alone.

Goodale's strategy misses the mark

During the last hunger strike, which began in mid-July and ended in early August, detainees demanded a meeting with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Goodale refused to meet with the detainees and instead pitched a new national immigration detention strategy.

Goodale's strategy promised to make detention a "last resort," and included $138-million to renovate two of three immigration detention centres, upgrade health supports for detainees, and develop a community supervision program.

"We have been on hunger strikes twice this year, most recently for 19 days, at the end of which we were promised real change. The Minister [Goodale] went on the record and said that immigration detention is broken, but he did not specify long-term and indefinite detention which impacts many of us, separating us from our families and making us sick," said one of the strike organizers in a No One Is Illegal press release.

Stakeholder engagement consultations for the strategy began in August, but have failed to directly consult immigration detainees.

"Consultations were promised, and yet, have not taken place directly with detainees, while we are the primary stakeholders," said the organizer.

No One Is Illegal and End Immigration Detention Network have rejected Goodale's strategy, and continue to call for an end to Canada's practice of indefinite immigration detention.

"What Goodale is talking about right now is expanding the number of beds, by building more in Laval and Richmond. And we've seen that immigration detention doesn't work, we've seen that it destroys families and communities. Building more beds isn't the way to resolve this, we should let people go," Scott told rabble.

Scott represents five detainees in Ontario, including Michael Mbogo, who has been detained for 10 years, and argues that if the government fails to act on immigration detention, "they're going to see more deaths, more hunger strikes, and more agitation on the outside."

The End Immigration Detention Network is asking Canadians to take action against the indefinite detention of migrants by signing this petition.

Sophia Reuss is rabble's assistant editor.

Image: Ello/@MrKeating

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