‘I cannot go back to Somalia’: Failed refugee fights to live freely in Canada at detention review
Adrian Humphreys | December 7, 2015 | Last Updated: Dec 8 7:56 AM ET
TORONTO — Inside a high-security prison, wearing a bright-orange inmate’s jumpsuit, Abdirahmaan Warssama sat passively with arms crossed for most of his detention review, until suddenly angered with what a Canada Border Services Agency official was saying.
“She’s lying,” he blurted out Monday, rising from his chair and interrupting his hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). “I don’t know where she’s getting that. She’s lying.”
Warssama has sat through 75 similar detention reviews already, each one ending the same way — denying his release, keeping him locked in Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., where he has remained for almost six years.
His frustration is fuelled by a belief his incarceration is profoundly unfair.
Warssama is not charged with any crime or serving any sentence.
Rather, he remains in detention because he was ordered deported to Somalia and he refuses to willingly go back to where he says he was tortured and his family killed.
As well as Warssama’s frustration, the government’s intractability on releasing him was also on display.
“Does he simply get to install himself as an immigrant of Canada by deciding he won’t co-operate?” asked the CBSA’s Denise Giuliani. Allowing him out of prison would encourage others to “thwart removal by not co-operating,” she told the IRB.
But internal government documents suggest other reasons why Warssama has been imprisoned for so long.
“If the subject does not want to collaborate to obtain a travel document for his removal … well maybe he shall remain be (sic) detention a bit longer before he is ready to sign,” wrote Eric Gagnon, Canada Border Services Agency liaison officer at Canada’s Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in an internal email in 2011.
(The ellipses are part of the writing style of Gagnon and do not represent words deleted from his email.)
“The wording (of Warssama’s signed declaration) must look like it is a voluntary return even thought (sic) we all know they are deportees,” the email continued.
“Also very important for Canadian media attention when we deport to Mogadishu.”
His email encouraged CBSA officers seeking Warssama’s signature to “be creative and work something out.”
That document, along with others, were released to Warssama’s lawyer under the Access to Information and Privacy Act.
In another, CBSA inland enforcement officer Brendan Bartlett writes that he “explained to Mr. Warssama that without his signature he would have to remain in detention.”
Subodh Bharati, Warssama’s lawyer, said the documents suggest his client was imprisoned as punishment and inducement to sign a document that would be perjury — claiming a desire to return when he doesn’t — partly for the sake of public relations.
CBSA did not comment on the documents prior to deadline. After Warssama’s outburst at the hearing, CBSA official Kirsten Dapat said the CBSA was not lying to the IRB.
The issue of sending people back to Somalia is a difficult one.
Canada has a temporary ban on deporting to Somalia, except for those Somali nationals found to be inadmissible to Canada because of criminal convictions.
Few countries return Somalis back to a country considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth, torn apart by civil war, a failed government, militants and extremists of various allegiances.
On Monday, CBSA revealed it has sent six Somali nationals back in 2015 with four more scheduled for deportation next month.
In a 2013 internal CBSA report, agency officer George Papoutsidis says Somalia is “one of the hardest places to co-ordinate a removal to.” Canada does so “not by force, but only with the co-operation of the deportees,” he wrote, and they must “sign a statutory declaration indicating a genuine desire to return to Somalia.”
It appears that policy has since changed.
CBSA told the IRB that the form now being requested from Warssama is not asking him to say he wants to go, only that he will co-operate with the removal.
Somalis are typically flown from Toronto to Turkey, then to Kenya and on to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. CBSA guards accompany deportees on the first two legs of the trip but not the last because Mogadishu is too dangerous.
It is a no-go zone for Canadian officials, the IRB was told.
African Express Airways, a short-haul airline based in Nairobi, is the only airline willing to fly a failed refugee claimant to Somalia unescorted, CBSA said, but it requires a signed consent form from the person agreeing to co-operate.
“A majority of detained cases of Somali origin have been in detention for months, if not years, and have cost the department hundreds of thousands of dollars in detention costs,” wrote Papoutsidis. “Many of these detainees have indicated that they would rather remain jailed than risk return to Somalia.”
Warssama has been detained since May 16, 2010.
Last month, at his monthly detention review, Warssama was emphatic in his distaste for returning home.
“No, I am not going to sign anything,” he told the IRB, according to a transcript.
“That is why I am here for a long time, I cannot go back to Somalia, I will be killed or tortured … 25 years ago I fled from Somalia, I run from Somalia.
“My mother gets killed, my sister gets killed, my father gets killed. I do not want to go back,” he said. “I am not safe there.”
In his various hearings he said he fears being conscripted by notorious terrorist groups al-Qaida or Al-Shabab if he returns to Somalia or be killed himself.
Warssama is one of nine children, according to a sworn affidavit. His father died after being kidnapped by government forces in Mogadishu in 1987.
He and one of his brothers were also kidnapped, accused of being supporters of an opposition faction. He was tortured, he claims, and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He fled to Canada in 1989. His refugee claim was declined but he was allowed to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. He failed to gain permanent resident status or citizenship, however.
In 2005 and 2006, he was convicted of threatening death, assault, obstructing a peace officer and failing to appear.
“I realize how stupid I was,” he says in his affidavit.
“I did not truly appreciate how lucky I was to have been given the opportunity to live in Canada. I also realize that I had not truly come to grips with what had happened to me in Somalia.”
His hearing was adjourned until Wednesday.