Killing of deported Mexican woman exposes flaws in Canada’s refugee system: critics

Posted by admin on Oct 25th, 2009

By Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service. October 25, 2009

OTTAWA — Turning 18 in Canada would have been a dream come true for Bebe but for one heartbreaking exception – her sister, Grise, wasn’t around to share the milestone. “I miss her so much,” Bebe sobbed as she talked about the sadness that hung over the birthday meal she shared last week with her mother and friends in Toronto. Grise is dead – after taking a bullet in the forehead – and buried in Mexico, the country Bebe, Grise and their mother had been trying to flee since their father, a player in the country’s drug wars, was murdered in 2002.

Bebe says Grise, who had been raped and beaten in earlier run-ins with her father’s enemies, was kidnapped last March and murdered in June. The three women had been hiding out at a friend’s place in Mexico’s Jalisco province after being deported from Canada in late 2008.

Their refugee claims had been rejected because they had apparently not convinced the one-man refugee board that their lives would be in danger if they returned to Mexico.

Refugee advocates say the family’s story might have been different had there been a way to appeal the refugee board’s decision and present new evidence of the danger facing them if they were forced to return to Mexico.

In the current refugee-processing system, however, there is no way to appeal a board decision on its merits.

Bebe says her father, who was no longer living with the family, was mixed up in the Mexican-Colombian drug wars, and one faction thought he had left two suitcases of cocaine and money with his ex-wife and children.

The extended family has been subject to random attacks and threats ever since. An uncle has already been killed, which is why, Bebe says, she insists the family name be kept out of any media reports.

Francisco Rico-Martinez of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto, said he finally persuaded the federal government to let Bebe and her mother return to Canada after they were surrounded by gunmen while walking home from mass in Mexico City in late September with two of the nuns who had been sheltering them since they fled Jalisco following Grise’s murder. The men took off when Mexican police showed up.

Although the nuns filed a statement with police, they told Bebe and her mother they had a week to leave the convent, prompting frantic phone calls to Rico-Martinez, who got Canadian authorities to look at the police report and issue the temporary visas.

Toronto MP Olivia Chow, the NDP immigration critic, has sent a letter urging Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to grant Bebe and her mother permanent residency here on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Rico-Martinez said the government, which refuses to discuss individual cases, provided the temporary visas only after the mother paid $3,400 owing from the deportation flights the three women took back to Mexico in 2008.

Bebe says she can’t believe the government forced them to pay for the deportation flight that took Grise to her death. She also says she’s tortured by the coroner’s report that Grise, who was pregnant, had given birth about a month before she was killed. The family has no idea where the baby is.

Under the current refugee system, failed claimants can appeal to the Federal Court of Canada, but only on technical grounds. The merits of the case are off limits and no new evidence is allowed.

A private member’s bill establishing an appeal division within the Immigration and Refugee Board apparatus was approved 6-5 by a Commons committee last week and will return to the House of Commons for final debate later this year.

Although Kenney opposes the bill, proposed by a Bloc Quebecois MP, he has voiced support for an effective appeal mechanism. He has not, however, elaborated on what he might propose as part of a package of refugee reforms he plans to roll out before Christmas to streamline the asylum process.

Bebe says she remembers the doom she felt as they waited to board the plane back to Mexico. “I was just so scared. I knew something bad would happen to the three of us,” she recalls.

Despite increasing evidence of police corruption, violence and social upheaval in Mexico, Canada made it harder for potential Mexican refugee claimants to enter Canada in July by imposing visa requirements on visitors from the country.

Kenney billed it as a bid to crack down on bogus refugee claims, noting that only 11 per cent of Mexican claims are accepted.

Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International says Canadian officials give too much credence to the argument that Mexican claimants return to Mexico safely simply by moving to a more secure area of the country.

“The analysis that a person can move safely within Mexico if you are targeted by a drug cartel or any of the other actors in Mexico doesn’t hold up,” Nafziger said.

“The reach of the cartels throughout Mexico is increasingly growing stronger. It’s pervasive and throughout the country.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has said it makes every effort to ensure failed claimants are not returned to a situation of risk, while acknowledging some do fall victim to unfortunate circumstances.

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