Court to hear case on whether asy­lum agree­ment with U.S. vi­o­lates char­ter

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - STEPHANIE LEVITZ AND PAOLA LORIGGIO

Dozens of protesters gath­ered out­side a fed­eral court on Mon­day called for Canada’s asy­lum agree­ment with the United States to be sus­pended, ar­gu­ing the U.S. is not a safe coun­try for refugees.

The lunchtime protest in down­town Toronto was timed to co­in­cide with a court hear­ing of a le­gal chal­lenge to the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment that pro­hibits peo­ple from en­ter­ing Canada from the U.S. — and vice versa — at of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings and ask­ing for asy­lum.

The protesters held up signs that read “The USA is not safe” and “Up­hold all laws that pro­tect refugees,” at times chant­ing “Sus­pend the agree­ment” and other slo­gans.

Kikome Afisa said her own ex­pe­ri­ence as an asy­lum seeker who ar­rived through the U.S. com­pelled her to speak out.

Afisa, who left Uganda amid gov­ern­ment op­pres­sion and vi­o­lence, said she was de­tained for four months af­ter cross­ing into the U.S. from Mex­ico.

She later came to Canada through an ir­reg­u­lar cross­ing in Que­bec, be­liev­ing it to be safer here. Afisa said she has ap­plied for asy­lum and is await­ing a hear­ing.

“The U.S. is not safe ... No help, no shel­ter, noth­ing. You can stay out­side on the street be­cause you don’t have noth­ing when you’re a refugee. You come from your coun­try be­cause of some prob­lem, you don’t have money,” she said, at times wip­ing away tears.

Afisa said there was also the loom­ing fear of be­ing sent back to Uganda. “I’m look­ing to be safe but they take you back away,” she said.

An­other pro­tester, Susie Hen­der­son, said refugees don’t have much choice as to where they ar­rive, adding re­cent images of American de­ten­tion cen­tres should be enough to show the coun­try is not safe for asy­lum seek­ers.

“Things like the Safe Third Coun­try (Agree­ment) just cre­ate bar­ri­ers for peo­ple who al­ready face too many bar­ri­ers,” she said.

As the U.S. has tight­ened its asy­lum rules and reg­u­la­tions in re­cent years, the deal has come un­der in­tense scru­tiny over con­cerns that ac­tions taken by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion no longer make the U.S. a safe har­bour for those seek­ing asy­lum.

In turn, when Canada re­jects peo­ple at the bor­der, their char­ter rights are be­ing vi­o­lated, ad­vo­cacy groups and the in­di­vid­ual lit­i­gant in the case are ar­gu­ing this week as the Fed­eral Court fi­nally hears the chal­lenge be­gun in 2017.

“Refugee claimants are be­ing de­tained in­def­i­nitely, in con­di­tions that are noth­ing short of cruel and un­usual, sim­ply for seek­ing pro­tec­tion,” reads one of the memos sub­mit­ted to the court.

The le­gal chal­lenge to the agree­ment was filed af­ter a Sal­vado­ran woman tried to en­ter Canada at an of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ing to seek asy­lum, ar­gu­ing she was be­ing bru­tally tar­geted by gangs at home. She was told she was in­ad­mis­si­ble be­cause of the deal.

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANADIAN PRESS

Kikome Afisa, right, is com­forted as she along with others protest out­side the Fed­eral Court of Canada build­ing Mon­day..

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