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Protest highlights plight of refugee claimants

Ottawa must stop deportation orders against women who fled violence, rally told
October 03, 2008 - The Toronto Star

Twenty-three-year-old Ana, tall and sombre, marched with more than 100 others yesterday down the middle of Yonge St. to support Isabel Garcia, an asylum seeker who has gone underground in Toronto to avoid being deported. But she was marching for herself, too.

Ana's father paid 2 million pesos ransom for her and her brother after they were kidnapped in Mexico by "people involved with the police." After moving around the country three times to evade more violence, she was handed her passport and a plane ticket by her father and fled to Toronto two years ago. In August, the Immigration and Refugee Board turned down her refugee claim. She is appealing to Federal Court.

The single board officer hearing her case "asked me why my father couldn't do something" to protect her.

"I had moved to three different places and they found me every time."

The board's Mexican refugee decisions "are not about our cases anymore. They don't care if you're a victim of domestic violence or you're gay and have been beaten up," said Ana as the No One Is Illegal election rally streamed past the Eaton Centre.

"It's about politics. Our president (Felipe) Calderon says he's trying to improve things. But the reality in Mexico is that they can't do anything anymore, it's so bad."

Politics and Isabel Garcia, who fled an abusive husband in 2005, brought the YWCA and Amnesty International to a Queen's Park news conference before the march. They were among more than 120 human rights and women's groups supporting the migrant rights group No One is Illegal yesterday in demanding the federal government:

Immediately stop all deportation orders against women and children who are trying to escape violence.

Order Canada Border Services and local police to treat shelters and settlement centres as off-limits for arrests.

Create the Refugee Appeal Division to hear cases after negative decisions.

Guarantee a consistent and knowledgeable immigration system to deal with women trying to escape violence.

Give temporary foreign workers, particularly nannies, permanent residence status on arrival.

"Women are only considered cheap labour in this country," Veronica Zaragoza of Mujeres al Frente, a Latino gay rights group, said at an hour-long rally outside the Immigration and Refugee Board offices on Victoria St.

No One Is Illegal had asked all four federal parties to respond. NDP MP Olivia Chow, the immigration critic, and Mississauga Brampton South Green candidate Grace Yogaretnam gave written support and turned up for the news conference. The Liberals promised a reply in seven days. The Tories did not respond.

Mexican university researcher Teresa Doring found 80 per cent of women killed by husbands or boyfriends had asked police for help from one to five years beforehand.

• More than 6,000 Mexican women and girls were killed between 1999 and 2005, according to a commission investigating violence against women.

• Amnesty International reported 26 women detained by Mexico state police over two days in May 2006 were tortured and raped.

• Mexican refugee claims have shot up from 1,649 with a 20 per cent acceptance rate in 2001, to 7,062 with 11 per cent approved last year.