Statement by Mohamed Cherfi on taking sanctuary

Posted by admin on Feb 18th, 2004

February 18, 2004. Saint-Pierre United Church, Quebec City (translated from the original French)

I, Mohamed Cherfi, have taken sanctuary in the Saint-Pierre United Church in Quebec City, rather than presenting myself for an appointment at the offices of Immigration Canada in Montreal last February 10. I risked being put into detention due to my refusal to collaborate with a deportation that would put my life in danger. It is not with a cheerful heart that I have come to take this step; it was the only option possible so that I could continue to try to convince the public and immigration authorities of the need for protection, while at the same time assuring my personal safety. The Canadian immigration authorities had a warrant for my deportation to the United States, the country from which I entered Canada. The American authorities would put me in detention until my deportation to Algeria.

As asserted in a letter by Lucie Lemonde — the Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (la Federation internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme, FIDH) — recognizing my need for protection: my deportation to Algeria via the United States will put my life in danger due to the systematic violation of human rights (disappearances, torture, imprisonment) that have taken place, principally against the defenders of human rights. For having been the spokesperson of the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians for almost two years, and having publicly expressed criticisms against the Algerian regime, I am exposed to serious risks.

The report that the FIDH will submit to the UN Human Rights Commission in March, brings attention to the dramatic situation in Algeria, where a civil conflict that has lasted for more than ten years has resulted in 150,000 deaths and more than 7000 disappearances. The state of emergency continues, which allows for the systematic violation of human rights. Moreover, the Algerian authorities have refused access to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, the FIDH and other organizations, so that they may investigate the situation.

I asked for political refuge in Canada as a conscientious objector, having refused to do compulsory military service that would have forced me into the civil conflict in Algeria. Like numerous other people who are refugees from war and do not manage to have their political status recognized, I suffered a refusal as a refugee claimant. Still, I was temporarily protected from removal by a moratorium on deportations to Algeria put into effect by the Canadian government between March 1997 and April 2002, due to the assertive presence of 1060 asylum seekers of Algerian origin. In the face of our imminent deportation, we came together as the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians, of which I was the main spokesperson.

In October 2002, the Quebec and Canadian immigration authorities finally put into place a procedure to regularize Algerians who were no longer protected by the moratorium. However, this process was based on the process of selection, and not on the assurance of protection from deportation to a country in conflict. Moreover, the selection process was based on criteria linked to an evaluation of our ability to “integrate” into Quebec society, a very ambiguous and arbitrary process, in particular for war refugees who have lived for years without status and with the continual anxiety of being eventually deported.

I have found myself, at the end of the day, among the people refused within the framework of the selection procedure, with the explanation that I lack “integration” into Quebec society. Even while the Quebec Immigration Minister — Michelle Courchesne — consented to review my file and the file of other refused claimants, and even before her negative response was conveyed to me on January 22, I received a notice from federal authorities that would begin the process of my deportation.

I ask today that the Canadian and Quebec immigration authorities give me protection by according me the status to live in Canada, in consideration of the civil conflict in Algeria and the risk of my deportation to Algeria via the United States. These risks are linked to the fact that I was the spokesperson of the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians for almost two years, and in Algeria, the defenders of human rights are prime targets.

— Mohamed Cherfi

Background of Mohamed Cherfi in the past two years:

* He was the person who accompanied people living underground to Immigration Canada to have warrants for their arrest and deportation orders revoked.
(A lawyer’s work: $300 per person.)

* He was the person who volunteered to fill out the applications of more than fifty non-status Algerians in need, most of whom were subsequently accepted.
(A lawyer’s work: $1,500 per person.)

* He was the person who put his body and soul into work for the Action Committee every day for the past 2 yearas.
(A community organizer’s work: $30,000 per year.)

* He was the person who raised public awareness about the injustice faced by his compatriots.
(A Coordinator of Public Relations’ work: $40,000 per year.)

* He is the person affectionately called the guardian angel of non-status Algerians, the public scribe, the psychologist for those in distress, and finally, the friend.
($: invaluable.)

* He is the person who found himself in jail 3 times in 6 months for his involvement in the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians. He and others were chained up, beaten and brutally arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Minister Coderre’s offices last May 29th, in solidarity
with those excluded from the regularisation procedure (See photo: Burns with electrical shocks from Taser guns that Mohamed and others received.) Prior to this struggle, Mohamed did not have a criminal record and had never had any contact with police.

Like Mohamed, approximately 150 men, women and children have been rejected and will be deported to Algeria if we remain indifferent. We demand the immediate return of Mohamed Cherfi, and denounce the actions of Immigration Canada, Immigration Quebec, the Ministry of Public Security and the Quebec City Police. Moreover, we re-iterate the original demands of the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians: the regularization of all non-status persons; an end to deportations; the return of the moratorium on deportations to Algeria.

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