Immigrant on hunger strike in detention

Posted by admin on Nov 7th, 2008

By Monisha Martins – Maple Ridge News. Nov 2008

A man who illegally entered Canada is on a hunger strike at a Maple Ridge prison. Mohammad Reza Nouri has been detained at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre since Oct. 13, the same day he landed at Vancouver’s International Airport carrying a fake passport. The 40-year-old Iranian, who can’t speak English, was charged the next day under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with one count each of illegally possessing a document to establish identity, using false document to enter or remain in Canada and communicating false or misleading information for immigration to Canada.

He was sentenced a day later, on Oct. 15, for using false documents, to three months in jail. The other charges were stayed.

It is unknown if Nouri has filed a refugee claim.

An inmate who shares a cell unit with Nouri said the Iranian has no idea why he is being held in prison.

His parents don’t know where he is. The man said Nouri began his hunger strike on Tuesday and won’t eat until he is returned to Iran.

“He was taken straight to jail from the airport. He just wants to go back home,” said the man, who is being held on an immigration warrant at the 256th Street provincial facility.

He and Nouri are two of 26 men – refugee claimants and illegal immigrants -detained at the prison.

B.C. Corrections has a total of 46 people currently being held on immigration violations throughout the province.

Corrections spokesperson Bruce Bannerman would not speak about Nouri’s hunger strike, citing privacy concerns.

“If an inmate decides to stop eating, we will monitor their health over the time they are fasting or not eating,” said Bannerman.

“We can’t force feed them unless there is a medical reason and they can no longer care for themselves.”

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that Nouri was arrested and sentenced, but spokesperson Faith St. John would not discuss a specific case.

She said people convicted under the immigration act would most likely serve their sentences in Canada before being deported.

Translation services are available in the customs’ area of Vancouver airport for several foreign languages, including Persian, or Farsi.

St. John could not say if Nouri used a translator.

For many refugees fleeing persecution, a false travel document is the only means of escape, according to No One is Illegal, a grassroots refugee rights collective that raises awareness about immigration issues, including detentions and deportation.

Repressive governments often refuse to issue passports to known political dissidents – or imprison them if they apply. Sometimes refugees are stripped of their identification as they escape conflict or have no time to collect their documents before fleeing for safety.

Harjap Grewal, an organizer with No One is Illegal, said Canada needs to allow a person entering the country time to make a claim for refugee status.

In Nouri’s case, he was arrested, charged and sentenced in three days.

“If there are language issues, obviously the person isn’t being given that opportunity,” Grewal said.
“It speaks to the treatment of asylum seekers. When the Canadian government signs onto the convention on refugee protection, they are supposed to recognize the right for someone to claim asylum, not criminalize them for trying to do it. That’s the major issue here.”

The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is an international convention that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

Grewal claims Canada’s immigration laws have a heavy focus on expediency and detention.

“What we should be looking at is a humanitarian solution to what is happening around the world,” he said.

Cuts to the provincial legal aid system and inadequate translation or support services also affect the process.

“There should be enough resources within the immigration system to provide that translation,” added Grewal.

“It is really frightening to know that the CBSA is willing to detain people for quite a long period of time without providing them the right tools to make a claim.”

Although the U.N. High Commission for Refugees won’t comment on individual cases, a Canadian spokesperson calls their detention “inherently undesirable.”

If detained, the organization believes the person should be entitled to legal counsel, translation services, a judicial review and have access to the local UNHCR office or other advocacy groups.

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