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No one is illegal

Sara COLLIN, 1 December 2002


Last April, over 1,000 non-status Algerians living in Canada woke up to the news they would soon be deported back to their home country by the Canadian government. After demonstrations and protests, the Canadian government has agreed to modify its procedures. But the new legislation will not necessarily be helpful to all non-status Algerians.

36 years old, Nassim Aoudia, who came to Canada in 1995, is one non-status Algerian who is breathing easier since October 30th. Having been refused refugee status like so many others, Aoudia feared deportation. But he was able to apply for immigration status under the new procedure and expects to receive a positive answer. " The important thing is that they’re now accepting us, " he says. "Most of us seem to be accepted, so it’s good." Aoudia lives here with his wife and works as a hydraulic mechanic.

Like Nassim Aoudia, the other 1,068 Algerians had fled to Canada, most settling in Montreal, to escape the violence that ravaged their country for a decade. Human rights reports estimate that the security forces and armed Islamic Fundamentalist groups have between them already caused the death of 150,000 citizens and the disappearance of 8,000 more.

As the violence has escalated since 1992, many Algerians have sought asylum in countries around the world, including Canada. The Canadian government offered them protection as of 1997, not by automatically granting them refugee status, but by suspending all deportations to Algeria. The government did so as a temporary measure, and at the beginning of 2002, a special committee recommended the suspension be lifted.

Government ignores violence

"The criteria [for the committee] is whether there’s serious violence or not," explains Robert Gervais, spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Québec office. "It was determined that the violence had become more localized. The violence occurred specifically in rural areas and was less in cities, where most people reside."

However, Smaïl Behlouli of the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians says violence in Algeria is still a very real threat. The Canadian Council for Refugees reports that, in 2001, 1,500 Algerians died due to the continuing conflict between security forces and armed groups. While the number of deaths has declined in 2002, there continues to be a Canadian travel advisory stating Canadians should avoid travelling to Algeria because of the unrest.

Demonstrations force change

As of October 30th, 32 Algerians have been deported. However the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians has been working hard to raise awareness about their situation. Established one year ago, the Committee has been organizing regular demonstrations denouncing the deportations for several months. Their work has recently attracted a lot of media attention recently and helped force the Canadian government to establish new procedures which may help prevent more deportations.

The new procedure gives all non-status Algerians in Canada a chance to apply for immigrant status. Immigration cases can take three to four months to process, thereby assuring an unofficial suspension of deportations until at least February 2003. Gervais said the main reason a special procedure was put in place is that the temporary suspension of deportations lasted so long that many of the non-status Algerians had time to create a life for themselves in Canada, and cannot be expected to just leave it all behind.

"It’s a big thing," Behlouli says. "We salute this procedure because it offers a solution to some people." But he believe the new procedure will not be helpful to all non-status Algerians. He says immigration requirements discriminate against certain non-status Algerians, because the requirements are different from those for refugee status. He says immigration officers favour those who are already in the workforce and well-established. This practice, in turn, punishes stay-at-home mothers, the disabled and the illiterate, among others, who are more vulnerable to being refused immigrant status. The Committee continues to hold weekly demonstrations to publicize their plight.