Canada rejects asylum seeker deported to torture in Libya

By:Sandra Contenta

Canadian officials are washing their hands of an asylum seeker who was tortured when Canada deported him and his family to Libya, while it was still in the clutches of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Adel Benhmuda learned this week that his application to return to Canada with his family, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, was rejected by immigration officials.

Adel Benhmuda, his wife Aisha, and their children — including Adam, left, and Omar — were deported to Libya in 2008 after their claim for refugee status in Canada was rejected. The family was granted that status in Malta, but say their future is in Canada.

“It’s a real shock, especially for the kids,” said Benhmuda, whose two youngest sons were born in Toronto. “Tears are everywhere.”

Benhmuda, his wife, Aisha, and his four sons spent eight years in Canada. They were deported in 2008 after their claim for refugee status was rejected. Benhmuda was detained on arrival in Tripoli and jailed for a total of six months on two separate occasions.

During that time, he says, prison guards regularly bound his bare feet, strung him up in the air and beat his soles with batons and electrical wires. The family then fled to the island of Malta and was granted refugee status. Last February, the United Nation’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, formally asked Canada to resettle them as refugees.

Benhmuda’s Toronto lawyer, Andrew Brouwer, said rejecting the family’s request to return is particularly outrageous given that Canada effectively deported Benhmuda to torture.

“That’s on the hands of the Canadian government,” Brouwer said. “They have blood on their hands.”

“It’s crazy,” he added. “It’s a clear-cut humanitarian and compassionate application, and the refusal is completely unsustainable. We have a family with two Canadian-born kids, they were well-established in Canada, and (Benhmuda) has offers of work here.”

The family’s hopes were rekindled when — after the Star revealed their ordeal — the NDP raised the case in the House of Commons in June. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted that Canadian governments do not deport people to torture, and defended Canada’s asylum system as the fairest in the world.

Kenney added, however, that his officials would give the family’s request to return to Canada “every humanitarian consideration” possible, and do so quickly.

At the end of September, an immigration officer from the Canadian embassy in Rome interviewed the Benhmudas in their small apartment in Malta. Rejection came in a Nov. 8 letter — received by Benhmuda’s lawyer on Nov. 21.

“After consideration of your application and the supporting information provided, I have concluded that humanitarian and compassionate considerations do not justify granting you an exemption from any applicable criteria or obligation of the (Immigration and Refugee Protection) Act,” says the letter, signed by S. Finall, first secretary for immigration at the Canadian embassy in Rome.

The letter does not address the torture Benhmuda says he suffered in Libya, but notes that he now benefits “from the protection of Malta,” where he obtained asylum. It ends with the phrase: “Thank you for the interest you have shown in Canada.”

Brouwer is now appealing directly to Kenney, asking the minister to overturn the decision of his officials and to allow the Benhmudas back.

Asked if Kenney might review the decision, his spokesperson, Candice Malcolm, said: “It’ll depend, I guess, if the case is brought to his attention, and what the facts are.” She said the department would be willing to say more about the case if Benhmuda signed a form consenting to the disclosure of private information.

In a telephone interview, Benhmuda says his sons — aged 8 to 16 — were so upset by the news they were unable to go to school.

“I want to go back for the future of my kids,” says Benhmuda, 43. “Canada is the country they grew up in. It’s the culture they know. It’s the country they love.”

Particularly upsetting to Benhmuda is how Canadian authorities deported him and his family. First, they concluded it was safe to return them to Libya, a country long known for its atrocious human rights record, a country Canadian and NATO warplanes bombed to help rebels get rid of Gadhafi.

Then they refused to let them carry their own passports and case file. They gave the documents to the crew of the commercial airline, and the crew handed them to Libyan authorities on arrival in Tripoli. It was like waving a red flag.

While beating him in jail, guards would accuse Benhmuda of shaming Libya by applying for asylum in Canada. After 18 months, he bribed his way out of Libya and landed with his family in Malta in 2010 after a roundabout route. They spent the first nine months on the Mediterranean island living in a cargo container in a refugee camp.

Benhmuda has been unable to find work. His children are struggling to learn Maltese, and they sleep on mattresses on the floor in one room. Adam, the youngest, suffers from asthma, and Moawiya, 14, from muscular dystrophy. Both were under regular medical care in Canada.

The island of 400,000 is under increasing pressure from African migrants and refugees landing on its shores. It has no refugee integration policy, and racism creates “an environment of fear, tension and mistrust,” the UNHCR says.

Benhmuda first fled Libya in 2000, after being roughly interrogated “10 to 15 times” by police wanting to know the whereabouts of his younger brother, Abu Baker. The brother belonged to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gadhafi organization that officially joined Al Qaeda in 2007 before cutting off ties two years later.

During the revolt that overthrew Gadhafi, LIFG members were represented in the rebel force’s Transitional National Council, which Canada officially recognized.

Benhmuda and his family arrived in Toronto after paying a smuggler $2,000 for a student visa to Canada. While his refugee application was being considered, he worked at two jobs, driving a truck at night and working in an optical lab by day. His wife, Aisha, volunteered at her children’s Mississauga school.

A refugee tribunal decided it did not believe Benhmuda’s story of repeated harassment and rough interrogation by Libyan police.

“I will never forget what Malta has done for us,” Benhmuda says, “but there is no future for us here. Our future is in Canada.”

Source: The Star

Libya Crisis Map

OCHA, UNOSAT and NetHope have been collaborating with the Volunteer Technical Community (VTC) specifically CrisisMappers, Crisis Commons, Open Street Map, and the Google Crisis Response Team over the past week.

The CrisisMappers Standby Task Force has been undertaking a mapping of social media, news reports and official situation reports from within Libya and along the borders at the request of OCHA (http://ochaonline.un.org/). The Task Force is also aiding in the collection and mapping of 3W information for the response. UNOSAT is kindly hosting the Common Operational Datasets to be used during the emergency. Interaction with these groups is being coordinated by OCHA’s Information Services Section.

The public version of this map does not include personal identifiers and does not include descriptions for the reports mapped. This restriction is for security reasons. All information included on this map is derived from information that is already publicly available online (see Sources tab: http://dev.libyacrisismap.net/login).

Focal Points & Media Relations:

* UN/OCHA: Brendan McDonald [mcdonaldb @ un.org]
* CrisisMappers/TaskForce: Patrick Meier [patric @ crisismappers.net]

For more information visit: Libyan Crises Map (http://libyacrisismap.net/main)

Translation of Declaration of the Establishment of National Transitional Temporary Council in Libya

Link to original Arabic Declaration, click here. For an unofficial German translation click here.

***UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION***

The Libyan Republic

Declaration of the Establishment of the
National Transitional Temporary Council

In affirmation of the sovereignty of the Libyan people over the entirety of their territory, land, sea and air; and in response to the demands of the Libyan people, towards the realization of the free will with which they shaped the uprising of February 17th; and in preservation of the Libyan people’s national unity; we resolve to establish a national council named ‘the National Transitional Temporary Council’ to be the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Article 1
Functions

1. To ensure the safety and peace of citizens and the national territory
2. To coordinate national efforts to liberate the remaining quarters of the nation
3. To coordinate the efforts of local councils working towards the return of civic life
4. To supervise the military council so as to ensure the realization of a new doctrine for the national army towards the defense of the Libyan people and protection of its borders
5. To supervise the election of a founding assembly charged with developing a new constitution for the country to be submitted to public referendum, so that the legitimacy of the constitution is founded on: the will of the people, the triumphant uprising of February 17th, respect for human rights, guarantee of civil liberties, separation of powers, an independent judiciary and the establishment of national institutions that provide for broad and pluralistic participation, the peaceful transition of authority and the right of representation for every segment of Libyan society
6. To form a transitional government to pave the way for free elections
7. To conduct and to steer foreign policy, to organize relations with foreign nations and international and regional organizations, and to represent the Libyan people before them

Article 2
The Council’s Organizational Structure

1. The Council is composed of 30 members, representing all of Libya’s regions and all segments of Libyan society, with youth membership representing no less than 5 members.
2. The Council will select from its members a president, an official spokesperson and coordinators for a variety of domestic and foreign functions.

Article 3
Seat of the Council

The Council’s permanent seat is at the capital, Tripoli, taking Benghazi as its temporary seat until the capital is liberated.

Article 4

It is the responsibility of the Council to set protocols for its regular and emergency meetings and to make decisions in accordance with the interests of the Libyan people, in a manner that does not contradict the people’s demands, the basis of which were declared by the uprising of February 17th: the fall of the Gaddafi regime and the establishment of a civil, constitutional and democratic state.

Article 5

Based on agreement of municipal councils across various liberated areas, the Council selects Mr. Mustafa Abdul Jaleel as the President of the National Transitional Temporary Council and Mr. Abdul Hafid Abdul Qader Ghoga as his Deputy and the Official Spokesperson for the Council.

Long Live a Free and United Libya
Glory to the Martyrs of the February 17th Uprising

Liberated Libya March 2, 2011

February 17th Revolutionaries
(stamped by the Coalition of February 17th)

***UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION***