Thursday, March 24, 2005

Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees

Youssef Elloubani, who is featured in the Montreal Gazette article below is an activist, heavily involved with the ongoing organizing efforts of the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees. Youssef who is a Palestinian refugee from Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon, continues to face deportation from Canada with upwards of 100 other Palestinian refugees throughout Canada who also face deportation at the hands of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees continues to organize against the deportation of all Palestinian refugees from Canada. If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the work of the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees you can contact them at 514 859 9070 or or

'One person decided my life': Refugee claims in Canada are now decided by single-person 'panels,' and although the law calls for an appeal procedure, there isn't one yet - and may never be one
(copied from the Montreal Gazette, Monday, March 21, 2005. Michelle Lalonde and Jeff Heinrich of The Gazette contributed to this report)

Youssef Elloubani, like his father before him, was born and raised in Bourj el-Barajneh, a miserable refugee camp for Palestinians near Beirut in Lebanon.

Like the other refugees in the camp, Elloubani, 26, grew up in poverty and fear and was deprived of basic rights. He faced a bleak future. Elloubani was also under constant threat from a Syrian military officer who had a grudge against his family.

In September 2000, Elloubani arrived on a student visa in Canada - a country he had grown up believing was a paradise of justice and freedom.

Now, because of the decision of one man, Elloubani probably will be sent home to his old nightmare, with no opportunity to appeal that decision.

"We don't have a chance to speak to somebody else," Elloubani said. "The first person said no, and that's it. One person has decided my life."

A law that came into effect in Canada in June 2002 reduced the number of Immigration and Refugee Board members, the panel that hears refugee claims, to one from two commissioners. The law said this cost-saving
measure was to be counterbalanced by a new appeals procedure, which would allow all refugees the opportunity to contest a rejection.

But the government has yet to implement the appeal procedure outlined in the law, and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Joe Volpe hinted last week that he is considering changing the law to scrap the idea of the
appeals division altogether.

"The purpose (of the refugee determination process) should be ... that if you get people who are genuine refugees, you want to make a decision on them quickly," he said at a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board on Thursday.

"If that's your overall objective, do you enhance that by putting in a refugee appeal division?"

That attitude has outraged groups that work with refugees. They say Canada is systematically turning away legitimate refugees, with no effective appeal process to catch errors.

At a conference at the Universite de Montreal last week, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes refugiees et immigrantes, an umbrella group of refugee aid groups in Quebec, jointly urged the federal government to act to improve the refugee hearing system.

The groups outlined a recent case where the United Nations Committee Against Torture had to step in to stop Canada from deporting Enrique Falcon Rios, a Mexican refugee claimant whom the committee deemed to be in
clear danger of being tortured if he is returned to Mexico.

"Mr. Falcon Rios's case confirms what we have been saying for years: errors made in Canada's refugee system go uncorrected," said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

"We hope that this international criticism will push the Canadian government to finally implement the appeal (process) for refused claimants, which has been in the law for almost three years."

She said the errors in the Falcon Rios case probably would have been corrected if he had the right to such an appeal.

Dench noted that Falcon Rios was lucky enough to be represented by Stewart Istvanffy, a Montreal lawyer specializing in international human rights law. Most refugee claimants do not have access to help from international rights bodies.

The commissioner in Elloubani's case, Michel Jobin, said Elloubani wasn't credible because he came to Canada originally on the student visa and did not study. He then took too long to apply for refugee status once his visa expired.

Elloubani said he had planned to study as soon as he earned enough money working in fast-food restaurants to pay tuition. He said he received bad legal advice about when to make his refugee claim, but contended his claim is no less legitimate.

"That's how they refuse everybody," Istvanffy said. "No one is credible... and once the word credibility is mentioned, the claimant has no recourse."

The only appeal avenue is in Federal Court, and that court will do a judicial review of the case only if there has been an error in law.

"Our immigration ministry acts like we never make mistakes in this country. We are so perfect that if someone is refused once, we will never correct the mistake," Istvanffy said.

The federal government keeps promising to overhaul the entire refugee hearing process. In the meantime, people like Elloubani are being sent off to their fate by one-person "panels."

Volpe said he must look at all the angles - and expects to know by September which way to proceed.

"I'm in a balancing situation," he said.

"On the one hand, some people think that it's a little too easy to get into this country as a refugee.

''And on the other hand, you have people who say a failed refugee claimant doesn't have as much access to (remedy) as a resident or a citizen. I'm trying to get to that perfect balance."

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