CCR and AI Call for Suspension of Removal of Refugee Family

Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International

For immediate release

8 April 2009


The Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International Canada today called on the government to suspend the removal of a Colombian family scheduled for tomorrow – a removal that would violate international law. The family’s refugee claim has never been examined even though they have strong grounds to fear persecution in their home country.

“Non-refoulement – the prohibition against forcing refugees back to persecution – is the most basic principle of refugee protection under international law,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, CCR President. “Forty years ago Canada committed itself to respecting this obligation by signing the Refugee Convention. Yet now the government is proposing to violate it by turning away a family seeking protection without hearing their claim.”

Detained for the last seven weeks in the Toronto area, the family are the victims of poorly drafted legislation and of the US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement. Twice the family has asked for Canada’s protection and twice Canada has refused to even examine their claim, once because they were barred as a result of the Safe Third Country Agreement and the second time because the law only allows one claim, even if the first claim was not examined. They have also been denied a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. They now face removal to Colombia.

The family fear persecution at the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an armed guerrilla group which has been engaged in a 40 year old armed conflict with the Colombian government. The family reports that, as farmers, they were forced to pay ‘taxes’ to FARC, and when they could no longer meet the demands, members of the family were kidnapped, tortured and raped.

FARC has been responsible for the vast majority of cases of hostage-taking and kidnapping carried out in the context of the armed conflict. “This family’s treatment by FARC is consistent with human rights reports, is alarming and warrants a full and thorough investigation,” said Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International.

The family’s case highlights serious deficiencies in Canada’s refugee protection system. The family had strong reasons for believing that the USA is not safe for them, contrary to the Canadian government’s claims in designating the US a safe third country. Furthermore, even though they have been denied the right to make a claim in Canada because the US is allegedly safe, the Canadian government is now proposing to remove them not to the US, but to Colombia, where they face persecution.

Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223 ext. 1
Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Canada, 416-363-9933 ext. 32, (416) 904-7158 cell