Saturday, October 27, 2012

Resistance to deportations growing

By Trish Elliott 
22 October 2012

A campaign to save two University of Regina students from deportation is gathering steam across Canada.

Today some 250 faculty and students attended a teach-in at the U of R, where organizers launched a Twitter campaign directed at citizen and immigration minister Jason Kenney and minister of safety Vic Toews.

By the end of the hour-long teach-in, the campaign’s Twitter account was already overloaded.

Victoria Sharon Ordu and Ihuoma Favour Peace Amadi are two Nigerian students who have taken sanctuary in a Regina church to avoid deportation. The pair worked at a WalMart for two weeks in the summer of 2011, violating a clause in their student visas that states international students may be employed on campus only.

Amadi said she did not know she was breaking the rules until an officer led her away from work in handcuffs. Ordu said she quit her WalMart job right away when she learned from another student it was against the rules – but two weeks later she was arrested anyway. They were issued deportation orders June 19.

The Twitter campaign calls on people to bombard Kenney and Toews with reports of ‘honest mistakes’ made that day, for example forgetting to feed the cat. But the issue is deadly serious, according to a political science lecturer who addressed the teach-in.

Students condemned to "life of poverty"

“If the Canadian government is to deport these two students, we are condemning them to a life of poverty,” Joseph Mburu said.

Mburu said the students are from the oil-producing area of Rivers State, where there is a wide gap between resource wealth and the living standards of the people. The students were beneficiaries of a special program funded by the Nigerian government to raise the educational level in Rivers State.

He noted that small business people are paying additional taxes to support the students studying abroad. “They are people who are selling tomatoes, who are selling vegetables on the road side,” he said. “We are not punishing just these girls – we are punishing those poor folks in the rural areas of Nigeria, in the streets of Nigeria.”

The Nigerian people have invested close to $100,000 in the two students, who are just one year away from completing their studies, Mburu said.

“What we are fighting for is that Victoria and Favour should not go back empty-handed. We want to see them…going down to the convocation hall and getting their degrees.”

“We need to stand up for them and convince the authorities to allow these girls to finish their education.”

Authorities chose the toughest option

Immigration consultant Kay Adebogun, who has been representing the students, said Ordu and Amadi were surprised and happy to learn people were gathering at the university to talk about their situation.

“We hope very soon they will be able to stand here themselves,” Adebogun said. “But we know if they come out from where they are now, they’ll soon be on their way to the airport.”

Adebogum said immigration authorities have a number of options to exercise when students contravene their visa requirements. First, the immigration officer could simply issue a warning and ask the students not to do it again.

A more serious option is to suspend the student’s study permit, which requires between $300 and $400 to get restored.

But in this case, the authorities made a conscious decision to enact the ultimate penalty, normally reserved for serious crimes, issuing a deportation order on June 19.

Adebogum reported the women were asked to give up computer and email passwords without a warrant being issued, and that their acquaintances had been threatened with deportation if they refused to divulge the students’ location.

“They have the power to reverse the decision,” said Adebogum, discounting arguments that once a deportation order is given it must be carried out.

Resistance building

The deportation appears to be part of a get-tough trend coming from all levels of government. Patience Umerewenza of WUSC spoke on the move to end medical coverage for some classes of refugees. She challenged the government line that free health care was encouraging people to become refugees.

Umerewenza said she fled her home country in fear of her life. “I was worried about not being killed, about my family not being killed. I didn’t come here to get free health care. It was the last thing on my mind,” she said.

Resistance is building in the province. A flyer sent by MP Kelly Block to her Saskatoon-Bigger-Rosetown constituents drew angry protests against her message that refugee claimants had unfairly received more health benefits than citizens were entitled to.

As well, a group has been formed to protest changes to the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program. The program lured immigrants to the province by promising they could easily sponsor family members from abroad to join them. Then a stroke of the pen dashed their plans.

The Coalition for a Fair SINP has been lobbying the provincial government to at least grandfather those who already arrived in the province under the old rules. The group has carried out a number of public actions and has now filed an ombudsman application, said Syed Moazsam.

“It’s not a big demand. All we are asking is that those who already made their sacrifices, who quit their jobs and moved here, and have found jobs and are now ready to file their applications (to bring their family), let them file their applications.”

Although initially the province seemed willing to reconsider its decision, there has been no movement on the issue, Moazsam said.

“The sad part is our own (provincial) government, our own minister, they are not supporting us, and our federal minister is just not paying attention, not recognizing how many sacrifices the families have already been through,” he said.

The teach-in ended with participants agreeing to meet again in one week’s time, to coincide with a protest rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, supporters of Victoria and Favour should tweet their own #honestmistake @KenneyJason and @ToewsVic and tell them to #stopURdeportations.

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