Canadian groups ready to welcome refugees resettled from Guantanamo

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media release

For immediate release
10 February 2009

Canadian groups ready to welcome refugees resettled from Guantanamo


The Canadian Council for Refugees called today on the Canadian government to resettle without delay some of the detainees in Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries.  A number of groups have shown their willingness to welcome these refugees by submitting applications on their behalf.

“The United Church shares a deep concern for the suffering of these detainees in Guantanamo who have been held for years without charge or trial,” said Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the General Council of The United Church of Canada. “We understand this to be a situation in which Canada, along with other countries, can now work with the new US administration to end their imprisonment. We are thankful that there are United Church congregations that have taken the decision to sponsor a number of those detainees whose only hope to re-build their lives is to resettle in Canada.”

Refugee sponsorships have been submitted on behalf of the following individuals:

  • Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian detained at Guantanamo for 7 years, sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Montreal.
  • Anwar Hassan, a Uighur from China, detained at Guantanamo for 7 years, sponsored by a group of United Church congregations in Toronto.
  • Two Uighurs from China, detained at Guantanamo for 7 years, sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Montreal.  They have asked that their names not be published for fear of repercussions on their families.

In addition:

  • Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad, a Kurd from Syria, detained at Guantanamo for more than 6 and a half years, is being sponsored by a United Church congregation in Toronto.  The application will be submitted today.

Once a private sponsorship application has been submitted, it is processed by the government.  If the person is a refugee, is not inadmissible on grounds of security or criminality and meets the other requirements of the law, a visa is issued to the person.  The sponsorship group is responsible for assisting the refugee with their settlement in Canada.

“The Gospel’s call to compassion and solidarity inspires us to sponsor these detainees for whom no evidence has been found that could lead to charges, but who cannot return safely to their country of origin,” said Brian McDonough, director of the Social Action Office of the Catholic Diocese of Montreal. He referred to a January 2006 pastoral letter by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops which affirmed that God is revealed when refugees are given protection.

“The refugee sponsorship of Djamel Ameziane is part of the church’s mission of justice and compassion in the world,” said The Right Reverend Barry B. Clarke, Anglican Bishop of Montreal. “Having read what Djamel has suffered and the risk he would face if returned to Algeria, I am convinced that sponsoring him is the right thing to do.”

All of those sponsored are innocent victims who were sent to Guantanamo only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  After years of investigation the US authorities have found no evidence on which to charge them with any crimes of violence.  Furthermore, any refugees sponsored for resettlement to Canada are subject to criminality and security checks by the Canadian government before any visa is issued. 

The Canadian resettlement applications are part of international efforts to find solutions for those detained in Guantanamo.  US President Obama has ordered the detention centre in Guantanamo to be closed within a year.  Some of the detainees face charges; some of them will be able to return home; those being sponsored are part of a third group who neither face charges nor can return home because of a risk of persecution in their home country.

“The support of the international community is critical to the closure of Guantanamo, and we hope that Canada can play a positive role in ending this injustice,” said Emi MacLean, Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.  “We are working with allies in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere to find safe haven for the 60 men imprisoned at Guantanamo merely because no country has yet opened its doors to them.  These men simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”

For further information, see Profiles and Frequently Asked Questions.

Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223 ext. 1,
Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, 212-614-6449,