Saadiya Osman Ibrahim is worried: she isn’t sure her brother will be able to survive in Somalia following his deportation from Canada earlier this month.
“He said that leaving Mogadishu is not an option at this time,” Saadiya told VICE News of the situation facing her brother, Ibrahim Osman Ibrahim. “Once you step outside, if you meet Al-Shabab [deemed a terrorist organization by Canada and the U.S.], they’ll ask you to join… if you say no, they’ll kill you on the spot.”
Her brother, Ibrahim is one of a small group of former Canadian residents deported to Somalia and 12 other highly dangerous countries after signing a “voluntary statutory declaration” – or self-deportation order.
Canada has a near-blanket ban on deportations to Somalia and other nations facing “situations of humanitarian crisis.” The ban doesn’t apply, however, when someone has been found inadmissible to Canada because they’ve been convicted of a crime, in which case the government says they can be sent back.
This means according to rules from the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) Ibrahim, who came to Canada from a refugee camp in Malawi in 2008 and had his refugee status revoked in 2012 after being convicted of assault against his girlfriend and a relative, could have been legally deported from Canada.
It has, however, been complicated for Canada to deport people to war-torn Somalia as officials have apparently faced difficulties coordinating removals with local officials due to the security situation and other problems. Canadian officials typically are prohibited from traveling to Somalia to accompany the people they are deporting, although an official with the CBSA could not confirm if this is still that case.
In the past, the CBSA has used private airlines to fly deportees to Somalia from neighbouring countries. African Express Airways, a charter company flying out of Kenya, had apparently required that the person being removed sign a form, promising to cooperate, although the CBSA would not confirm if this is the case.
This need for a signed document from the airline is why, immigration lawyers speculate, someone like Ibrahim, who was convicted of a crime, is still required to give consent before being deported. There are other documented cases of failed Somali refugee claimants who have remained in detention for years because they’ve refused to sign self-deportation orders.
“Detention is being used as a stick to beat people into agreeing to go back,” Mac Scott, End Immigration Detention Network
A spokesperson for the CBSA told VICE News that “written consent is only needed” for deported individuals who are considered admissible to Canada. It’s not needed when individuals are not supposed to be in Canada due to criminality, “human rights violations” or links with organized crimes, the border agency said.
Ibrahim’s case, where a refugee claimant with a criminal record says he was pressured into signing a removal order, has experts questioning the policy of consent when it comes to so-called self-deportation.
In the past five years, 549 people have been sent back to countries for which Canada has a moratorium on deportations because of war, humanitarian crisis, or natural disaster, according to CBSA data.
But unlike them, under the threat of indefinite detention Ibrahim did sign the form, effectively sealing his fate and a one way ticket to Mogadishu.
Ibrahim never wanted to return to Somalia and he signed the form feeling as though he had no other options, his family told VICE News.
SMALL BUT GROWING TREND
Though the numbers are small, the percentage of deportations from Canada to dangerous regions facing humanitarian crisis are slowly rising. They rose from about 0.7 percent of total deportations in 2013, to 1 percent in 2014 and 2015, and 1.3 percent in 2016, according to CBSA data.
As of November 15, voluntary deportations accounted for 1.2 percent of total removals from Canada in 2017.
Ibrahim’s case is one of several where refugee lawyers and activists say immigration officials used coercion in order to pressure refugees to self-deport.
Ibrahim did not have legal representation when asked to sign the deportation form and may not have fully understood its consequences, said Ayendri Perera from the activist group No One Is Illegal.
“He wasn’t given information about what he was signing,” Perera told VICE News.
Saadiya and her mother say Ibrahim was pressured to give consent because he received an ultimatum — sign or remain in detention indefinitely. “They just tell him if you cannot sign this then you will stay [in confinement], you cannot go back to society,” Hussein told VICE News.
Ibrahim’s fears about being stuck in immigration detention are well founded, said Mac Scott of the End Immigration Detention Network, a Canada-based activist group.
“Detention is being used as a stick to beat people into agreeing to go back,” Scott said. “You have to choose between going somewhere where you might face risk, or being in jail.”
‘A LITTLE SHADE’
In a similar case two years ago, Somali citizen Abdirahmaan Warssama was imprisoned for over five years because he refused to sign a voluntary statutory declaration. He was released in 2015 after a federal tribunal ruled there was an exceedingly slim chance of removing him without his voluntary consent.
Canada’s immigration detention policies, where detentions can be indefinite and failed refugee claimants are sometimes kept in the same prisons as convicted criminals, have been criticized by human rights organizations and the United Nations.
With the possibility of indefinite detention hanging over refugees’ heads, obtaining their consent for deportation can amount to coercion, said Luis Vasquez, an Ottawa-based immigration lawyer.
“Technically it is voluntary for it to be enforceable,” Vasquez said, “but the facts definitely put a little shade on whether there could even be consent given in that situation.”
Wasrssama’s lawyer Subodh Bharati says he’s seen the tactic allegedly used with Ibrahim before.
Warssama, like Ibrahim, refused to sign the document multiple times; both men were presented the form without legal representation present.
Internal documents from the CBSA, previously acquired under the Access to Information and Privacy Act, indicate that voluntary statutory declarations were intentionally worded to imply the deportees themselves believed they should be deported.
Regarding Warsamma’s case, CBSA Liaison Officer Eric Gagnon wrote in 2011 message that the document was a “necessity.”
“The wording must look like it is a voluntary return even though we all know they are deportee [sic],” and that “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,” the CBSA official wrote.
Citing this message at a tribunal in 2015, adjudicator Karina Henrique found that Canada had no procedures to remove Somalis, other than pressuring them into signing these documents. Henrique added that the removal of six Somalis from the country which occurred that year was “problematic.”
In 2016, nine Somalis were deported from Canada and three have been deported so far this year, according to data provided by the CBSA.
This number includes Ibrahim, and — even taking into account his considerable criminality— his family believe it to be a serious miscarriage of justice.
Along with the stress of a possible indefinite sentence, potentially lasting as long as he declined to sign, Ibrahim had been placed on antidepressants, which his family believe may have affected his ability to fully consent. He was also struggling with uveitis, an ocular disease, which needs persistent monitoring and checkups.
Without prescription medicine, it is likely that Ibrahim will become blind within a few months. His family worry he won’t be able to get the medicine he needs in Somalia to maintain his sight, hurting his chances of survival in the country. To remove him under these conditions is unethical, Saadiya says.
“I believe in the CBSA’s responsibility to outline the greater risks that they’re exposing my brother’s life to,” Saadiya said, “as opposed to the risk of him being in Canada.”