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Victory for Mohamed Cherfi

Mohamed CherfiA Canada-wide campaign to protest the Canadian governments deportation of Mohamed and to bring Mohamed home has been ongoing. Given this increasing pressure, there has been a victory for Cherfi! The Board of Immigration Appeal in the United States has just recognized Mohamed Cherfi as a political refugee by overturning the refusal handed down by a U.S. Immigration Court judge on October 22, 2004.

1) Joint press release, Mohamed Cherfi Solidarity Committee and others

2) AP News Article, June 1

3) Backgrounder on Mohamed Cherfi

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Press Release

Mohamed Cherfi recognized as a political refugee by the United States; Will Ottawa and Quebec finally take action?

Montreal and Quebec City, June 2, 2005. The Board of Immigration Appeal in the United States has just recognized Mohamed Cherfi as a political refugee by overturning the refusal handed down by a U.S. Immigration Court judge on October 22, 2004. That recognition highlights all the injustice suffered by Mr. Cherfi in conjunction with the processing of his application for immigration to Canada and Quebec, which have several times denied the serious risks facing him in Algeria.

The organizations and individuals supporting Mr. Cherfi, along with his partner, Louise Boivin, demand that the Quebec and Canadian authorities take measures so that he can return to Canada immediately.

The U.S. decision recognizes that Mohamed Cherfi faces persecution in Algeria for having criticized, while living in Canada, the human rights violations in that country. In addition, the judgment confirms that people who take such positions are victims of reprisals, such as criminal charges of defamation, in Algeria. The Board of Immigration Appeal also took into account the Algerian authorities’ awareness of Mr. Cherfi’s activities in Canada as spokesperson for the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians.

Further to this decision, the U.S. authorities must conduct the requisite security check in immigration cases. This final step will take several more weeks, delaying Mr. Cherfi's release that much longer.

In Canada

The examination of the application for residence in Canada on humanitarian grounds filed by Mohamed Cherfi with the Canadian and Quebec authorities in June 2004 has still not been completed. It should first be recalled that Citizenship and Immigration Canada denied him refugee status last March following an interview conducted at the prison in Batavia by a representative of the Canadian Consulate in Buffalo.

The Quebec immigration department (MICC) conducted an interview with him on March 10 in conjunction with his application as “a person in a particularly distressful situation”. In April, Mr. Cherfi learned that the MICC had refused to grant him status on one of the two grounds of his application, namely, that "his physical safety is threatened by risk of imprisonment, torture or death if he cannot remain in or come to Quebec (s. 18(c)(iii) of the Quebec Regulation respecting the selection of foreign nationals)". Under the law, the group sponsorship by five Quebec City residents applied only to that ground of the application.

However, the MICC has yet to rule on the second ground of that same application as‚ "a person in a particularly distressful situation". That ground reads as follows in the Regulation: "his physical, mental or moral well-being and that of his family legally in Quebec would be seriously affected if he could not remain in or come to Quebec" (s.18(c)(i)). The telephone interview scheduled for yesterday relative to these proceedings could not be conducted, because the civil servant in charge did not make the necessary arrangements with the prison in Batavia, where Mohamed Cherfi is still being held.

Whereas the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeal in the United States confirms the legitimacy of Mohamed Cherfi's need for protection, the Quebec and Canadian immigration authorities continue to put up roadblocks to his return here.

It's high time the federal and Quebec immigration ministers take urgent measures to bring Mohamed Cherfi back to Canada as soon as possible. They have in hand everything they need to do so. We ask the MICC to immediately issue a Quebec selection certificate to Mohamed Cherfi, who more than qualifies for one. Similarly, we ask federal citizenship and immigration minister Joseph Volpe to immediately grant Mr. Cherfi a temporary resident permit so that he can return to Canada now.

The injustice perpetrated by the Canadian immigration system

In recognizing that Mohamed Cherfi faces persecution if deported to Algeria, the decision of the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeal bears witness to the great injustice perpetrated against him by the Canadian and Quebec immigration systems.

The military-style arrest of Mohamed Cherfi while in sanctuary at Saint-Pierre United Church and his deportation to the U.S. prison where his freedom has been denied him for 15 months are serious breaches of his fundamental rights. These extremely disturbing acts lead us to conclude that respect for sanctuary is a fundamental principle which must no longer be flouted by the authorities.

Furthermore, in the absence of a right of appeal, the Canadian authorities’ refusal to recognize Mohamed Cherfi as a refugee before and after his deportation almost endangered his life. The U.S. decision shows just how important it is for a right of appeal to be included in Canada’s refugee determination process, a right long requested by organizations for the defence of refugee rights.

Mohamed Cherfi was also refused a right of residence in Canada after having lived here for six years under the protection of a moratorium on deportations to Algeria. This highlights, moreover, the intolerable situation of many people under a moratorium, who are forced to live with uncertainty for years, with no recognition of many of their rights, because their status has not been regularized.

Clearly, both levels of government have been resolutely biased against Mohamed Cherfi, which has worked against him throughout the processing of his file. He was entitled to exercise his freedom of expression by publicly criticizing the system and Canadian and Quebec immigration procedures as spokesperson for the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians. Rights and freedoms must apply to all human beings, regardless of their culture of origin and regardless of whether they are asylum seekers.

A movement of solidarity of the utmost importance

We sincerely thank the thousands of people and hundreds of organizations that have supported the cause of Mohamed Cherfi to date and contributed to the legal aid fund. There is no doubt we would not be where we are today without the sweeping movement of solidarity that has been demanding his return to Canada for more than a year. It is crucial to keep up the support until his return becomes reality.

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Mohamed Cherfi Solidarity Committee
Ligue des droits et libertes (Human Rights League)
Mohamed Cherfi sponsorship group
Amnesty International
Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes refugiees et immigrantes (Committee to Aid Refugees)

Information:
Montreal: (514) 825-6136 Quebec City: (418) 262-0144

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Immigration appeals board grants Algerian-born Quebec man refugee status
June 1, 2005, 9:43 PM EDT

MONTREAL (AP) _ The Board of Immigration Appeals in Buffalo, N.Y., has granted Algerian Mohamed Cherfi refugee status in the United States.

Cherfi's lawyer, Noel Saint-Pierre, confirmed the news Wednesday to Radio-Canada.

The American decision paves the way for Cherfi to seek permission from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to return to Quebec, since he is no longer at risk of being deported to Algeria.

Cherfi, who is in mid-30s, lived in Quebec for six years before taking refuge in a Quebec City church about one year ago. Police arrested him for allegedly violating bail conditions imposed following his participation in a demonstration.

He was turned over to immigration officials and sent to the United States, his point of entry into Canada.

The appeals board decision overturns the October 2004 ruling by a U.S. immigration judge, who found that although Cherfi was credible, the United States didn't recognize being a conscientious objector as a ground for asylum.

His supporters, notably his Quebec-born wife Louise Boivin, have maintained that deporting him to his country of origin constituted a threat to his life.

Cherfi feared being imprisoned in Algeria because he had refused to complete military service and had sought political asylum in Canada.

Representatives of Amnesty International will join Boivin and Saint-Pierre at a news conference on Thursday to discuss the ruling and future efforts on behalf of Cherfi.

Quebec's immigration minister will also meet with Cherfi's family on Friday to discuss his request for sponsorship in the province.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

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WHO IS MOHAMED CHERFI?

Mohamed Cherfi, an Algerian asylum seeker, had been in sanctuary at Saint-Pierre United Church in Quebec City since February 10, 2004 in order to avoid deportation to Algeria where he fears for his life. Mohamed sought political refuge in Canada as a conscientious objector, having refused to do compulsory military service that would have forced him into the civil conflict in Algeria.

On Friday March 5, dozens of police officers forcibly entered the church. They stormed in and immediately descended on Cherfi, and within hours, Mohamed was deported to the United States and is now in a prison cell in upstate New York. His arrest breaks a longstanding secular tradition of right to sanctuary, the first time such an outrage has occurred in Canada.

Mohamed Cherfi was nabbed from the church based on a warrant from the Montreal Municipal Court for failing to give notice of his change of address. This condition was imposed during his release after an arrest during a peaceful demonstration during which several non-status were targeted for defending their rights. However, although Mohamed was staying in the church, his mailing address remained the same as before. Upon arrest and arrival at the Quebec Police Station, the charges against him were dropped and he was set free. And then picked up by the Canadian Border Services Agency who were waiting for him in the police station.

Mohamed Cherfi is a long-time activist and was arrested three times fighting for the rights of his community to stay in Canada. Mohamed was an outspoken member of the Action Committee of Non-Status Algerians. He and others were chained up, beaten and brutally arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Minister Coderre’s offices last May 29th. Prior to this struggle, Mohamed did not have a criminal record and had never had any contact with police.

Due in large parts to the tireless work of Mohamed through the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians , hundreds of non-status Algerians were regularized in Quebec as immigrants under the Special Procedures. However, Mohamed was himself refused as an immigrant to Quebec on the pretext that he was not adequately "integrated".

There is no doubt that the exclusion of Mohamed is clearly linked to his role as a brave human rights activist fighting for himself, his community and paving the struggle for other communities to self-organize against Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The public must stand in solidarity with Mohamed Cherfi and the Action Committee of Non Status Algerians at the frontlines of struggle against CIC’s consistent and systematic repression and policies of increasing detentions and deportations. Mohamed Cherfi is a defender of human rights and social justice and we cannot stand in silence as the government sends a message to all those fighting for their rights that they too will be targeted and deported.

Such political retribution against non-status people will not be tolerated.

We will continue to demand the return of Mohamed Cherfi and encourage the public to pressure their MP's as well as the Minister of Immigration and Minister of the Border Services Agency to do the same. We are clear about one thing: Mohamed will come home.