Deportation of Palestinian Refugees from Canada

On 30 November 2004 Ahmad Nafaa, a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee who was born in Ein al-Hilwe refugee camp in Lebanon, was deported from Canada to the United States. US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) immediately locked him up in the Clinton Country Jail in Northern New York. Nafaa was detained on 23 November at the Laval detention center in Canada. The night before his deportation, Nafaa removed a map of Palestine from his necklace and gave it to a friend for fear of being harassed in the US by immigration officials or in the US jail. He is being transferred to the INS detention center near Buffalo, NY.

Ahmad will probably be found ineligible to claim asylum as a refugee in the US. US immigration law imposes a one year time limit for the filing of a refugee claim from the time the claimant enters the country. Because Ahmad first entered the US on his way to Canada in 2001 the time period has expired. He traveled to the US in February 2000 on a student visa. He can apply for a ‘Withholding from Removal’, but the standards applied to such an application are much higher than for a refugee claim, and it does not confer the same status. The acceptance rates in the US for both types are extremely low. Even if he is released from detention during the time that his claims are processed, he will not be eligible for a work permit for six months.

Several members of the Canadian parliament personally pressured the Minister of Immigration, July Sgro, to review Nafaa’s file and stay his deportation. The Minister and several high-level bureaucrats in Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) also received thousands of faxes, phone calls and emails. The Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees organized four demonstrations in support of Nafaa which received extensive media coverage.

The Federal Court rejected an application for a stay of deportation on 29 November, the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Judge Beaudry found that Nafaa would not face ‘irreparable harm’ if deported to the US. Beaudry also denied the application on grounds that Nafaa did not have ‘clean hands’ because he had been living underground for over a year before being detained. Nafaa’s 26-year-old brother Muhammad, how arrived in Canada on a forged passport from Sweden, whose case was the same, but was heard by a different member of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board was granted refugee status in Canada.

In late December the Federal Court of Canada issued a ruling directing Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to reevaluate their decision to deport Osama Saleh, a stateless Palestinian refugee facing deportation to the Tulkarem region in the West Bank, due to the “risk of persecution, torture and cruel & unusual punishment” which he would face if deported from Canada to the occupied Palestinian territories. Immigration Canada issued a deportation order in April 2004 arguing that Saleh would not face a danger to his life if deported to the West Bank. Through the construction of the wall, Saleh’s village of Beit Lid, along with the surrounding villages, have been isolated from Tulkarem.

For more on Palestinian refugees in Canada see, 'Canada Wages War on Refugees: Paelstinain Refugees Fight Back,” al-Majdal, Issue No. 23 (September 2004). Also see: