Raul Gatica accepted as refugee

Posted by admin on Feb 23rd, 2006

Oaxaca activist accepted as refugee, Straight Talk By Matthew Burrows 

After surviving 13 bouts of imprisonment, endless beatings, and threats to his children, Oaxaca political refugee Raul Gatica has now come through the Canadian refugee application process. On February 10, an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator in Vancouver ruled that Gatica can stay in Canada and will not be forced to return to Mexico to face possible torture or even death.

Gatica, a well-known nonviolent Mixteco activist and head of the Consejo Indigena Popular de Oaxaca-Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM), is not about to sit quietly. Since his arrival in Vancouver last July, he has vowed to continue the struggle for human rights, giving special attention to others who are trying to flee to Canada as political refugees.

“The [IRB] hearing was interesting,” Gatica told the Straight through a translator. “They asked, ‘If you received so many threats in Mexico, why did you stay so long? If they shot you, why did you stay there?’ I said that if all of those of us who received threats ran at the first, there wouldn’t be anyone to stand up for human rights in this world.”

Gatica told the Straight he has been divorced for more than 20 years, and has two sons aged 23 and 22. One lives in Monterey and the other in Mexico City. He left his family and most of his possessions behind in his flight to Canada.

Tonight (February 23), at 7 p.m. at Spartacus Books (319 West Hastings Street), Gatica is one of four speakers who will discuss “transformative change” and grassroots community activism that does not involve taking power. Gatica said these strategies are part of a wider indigenous struggle that began in the summer of 2005, when the Zapatistas-indigenous rebels from Chiapas state-issued their “Sixth Declaration”. It is called “Otra Campana”-a campaign taking place alongside and outside of this year’s Mexican federal election.

Harjap Grewal, an organizer with Vancouver refugee-advocacy group No One Is Illegal, told the Straight that he worked with Gatica on his case for asylum. “We did a lot of the support work and public awareness, and I think it’s great that he was able to get processed at the IRB level,” Grewal said. “I do know this outcome is significant, especially given the politicized nature of the campaign.”

Grewal said he is especially pleased that Gatica expresses himself so fearlessly. “It’s great to see, because I think he identifies the fact that most refugees are fearful, right from the moment they arrive at the border, and this is precisely the trouble with the immigration system,” Grewal said. “The system scares the heck out of most people.”

The IRB’s Charles Hawkins, told the Straight that Mexicans filed 3,541 refugee claims in 2005, and 697 were accepted; 19 percent of Mexican claims were approved last year-one of the lowest rates since 1995.

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