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News :: Human Rights
PALESTINIAN REFUGEES: Update on Day of Action & Article on Sanctuary
21 May 2004
{NOTE: More than 150 people gathered in Montreal yesterday to protest the pending deportation of Palestinian refugees from Canada and in opposition to the ongoing Israeli war crimes being committed against the residents of the Rafah refugee camp. Yesterday's demonstration as part of a North American wide day of action, illustrates the growing movement against the effort of Immigration Canada to deport Palestinian refugees, to the deadly and illegal Israeli military occupation and the poverty and persecution which defines daily life in the refugee camps of Lebanon.

There were solidarity demonstrations and actions organized in New York and Toronto. In NYC people gathered to protest outside of the Canadian Consulate, in support of the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees and in Toronto a delegation of supporters visited the offices of Immigration Canada, to stress their support for the struggle of the Palestinian refugees facing deportation. There are many actions and events being planned in the coming weeks if you are interested in getting involved or supporting the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees please get in touch: refugees (at) / 514 591 3171}


"Where the sun don't shine"
by Sara Falconer

Palestinian refugees in lightless NDG church sanctuary see little movement on deportation case

Outside, it's 23 degrees and the sun's touch is still a giddy novelty. But in the cool church basement in Notre-Dame-de-Grace, three Palestinian refugees have been touched by little except fluorescent light and industrial pastels for nearly four months.

On January 30, 60-somethings Khalil Ayoub, Nabih Ayoub and Therese Boulos Haddad took sanctuary to avoid deportation. Not that sanctuary is any guarantee of safety these days: In March, police in Quebec City violated the tradition for the first time ever in Canada to arrest non-status Algerian refugee and activist Mohamed Cherfi.

Exhausted but patient, Nabih and wife Therese settle in at a worn folding table to talk. Nabih's brother Khalil is in the adjacent kitchen. The family has lived in Canada for three years ("Three years and 16 days," Nabih interjects). They spent the previous ten years living in the Ein El-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon.

"Their situation was very difficult," explains translator Maya Antaki. The camp was under the control of several militias, and their 24-year-old son decided to flee rather than join the fighting. After he left, the Ayoub family was harassed and threatened. "If you want to stay alive, you'll have to leave."

Apparently that's not enough for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, who denied their claim for landed refugee status. When asked about the possibility of deportation back to Lebanon, both become visibly distressed. After a moment of tense conferring, Antaki translates, "They would prefer to die here than return."

Many of the Palestinian refugees in Montreal who are facing deportation in the coming weeks have self-organized as the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees. The Coalition has proven tireless in its ability to reach the public through petitions, demonstrations and other events.

The 4.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide have been stateless since they, their parents or grandparents were expelled from their homes following the declaration of the Israeli state in 1948. Most of Montreal's Palestinian refugees are from Lebanon's camps and the occupied territories.

According to the United Nations, the 360,000 refugees in Lebanon cope with appalling human rights abuses. They are forbidden from owning property, are not allowed to work in over 78 professions, and often have to perform manual labour or work illegally, with 60 to 80 per cent living in poverty. They have no political rights and their movement is restricted. In the camps, residences are cramped, some without water, electricity and sewage systems.

In the occupied territories, thousands of Palestinian refugees are homeless as a result of house demolitions. Hundreds have been subjected to illegal arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions by the Israeli occupying forces. It is little surprise that many are desperate to leave, at any cost.

"They came here with full hope because of the reputation that Canada has in the refugee camps in Lebanon for protecting human rights," says refugee Ahmed Mustapha.

Canada officially opposes the occupation and Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and according to the Geneva Convention, will not send a person back to a country where they might be persecuted or "exposed to the risk of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

Yet since 9/11, more and more Palestinian refugee claims are being rejected by Immigration Canada. The controversial Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which was passed in June 2002, in part limits the ability of refugees to appeal the decision of a single judge against them.

Mustapha got involved with the Coalition after he received a negative decision in his own case. "There's no hope for judicial review," he says. "It's a formality."

As a result of deportation orders, at least six Palestinian refugees are hiding "underground" in Montreal. They live in constant fear of arrest, unable to even see a doctor if necessary. "They prefer to live with these conditions than to go back to refugee camps," Mustapha says.

Coalition members and supporters celebrated their first major victory in April when a judge halted the deportation of Osama Saleh to the West Bank. The federal court will now review his case in more detail before making a final decision. Organizers credit the decision to a vigorous campaign of letters, phone calls and protests aimed at Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Judy Sgro.

This week, a day of solidarity with Palestinian refugees facing deportation is planned in Vancouver, Toronto, New York and other North American cities to demand a halt to the deportation of Palestinian refugees and the acceptance of their claims for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

On Thursday, May 20, from 4 to 6 p.m., the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees and supporters will demonstrate at the local offices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada at 1010 St-Antoine West (Bonaventure metro). For more information, contact refugees (at)

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