April 26, 2017
Photo: Dima Siam (far right, in white hijab, holding her baby, Maria), welcomes her brother-in-law and his family as sponsored refugees to Canada on April 12. Siam is fighting a deportation order that would send her to Syria, the result of a simple paperwork error. The Trudeau government has thus far refused to end her nightmare of limbo and grant her permanent resident status. Credit: Brian Cornelius
Every time Ottawa-based Syrian refugee Dima Siam sees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying refugees are welcome in Canada, she says, “I feel as if someone despises me and slapped me on the face.”
Siam, whose husband and four children are Canadian, survives every day under the shadow of a deportation order to Syria because of a simple paperwork error that, despite being resolved years ago, continues to supply the immigration bureaucracy with the cruel rationale to carry on the same hard-hearted policies that marked the Harper regime.
For years, Siam has called on the Harper and Trudeau governments to allow her to live in peace with her Ottawa family, and over 22,000 people have signed a petition in her support. While she applauds the work of those Canadian officials who went overseas to facilitate the entry of thousands of other Syrian refugees, she wonders why she cannot meet one of those same officials in a downtown Ottawa office to resolve her limbo.
The painful reality of Dima Siam’s life hit home once again last week when she showed up at the Ottawa airport to welcome her brother-in-law and his family, Syrian refugees who had been sponsored by her husband, Mohammad, and the United Church. The new arrivals to Canada were welcomed with kind, loving arms by community members even as Siam contemplated the fact that her own temporary resident permit will soon expire and she is no longer eligible for post-partum health care.
A sour happiness
“I had mixed feelings,” she says, her husband Mohammad translating.
“Sort of sour happiness. On one hand, I was very happy for them because I knew how difficult their situation was in Syria when we were neighbours back then before 2013, and it was not easier for them in Lebanon when they had to flee Syria in December 2012. This is why I encouraged my husband to sponsor them and went with him to the church to ask if they could co-sponsor with us.
“On the other hand I am very sad for myself being ignored: my rights as a woman in need for protection by the former government continue to be ignored by the current government, although my husband did everything he could and submitted all different types of reunification applications for five years to help me get permanent status in Canada.”
Like thousands of refugees living a made-in-Canada limbo — including hundreds of Syrians under deportation order — Siam says: “I feel like being in a virtual prison. I have not been able to see my parents and brothers for 7 years. My parents have not seen two of my children at all, and the oldest two were babies when they last saw them. And when my mom applied to visit me when I gave birth to my last baby girl in December, 2016, to be by my side and help me with the kids, her visa application was rejected.”
A teacher with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Siam wants to work and “integrate into society,” but she cannot move forward while stuck in the immigration limbo. She’s only had health coverage for nine months over the last five years, and has had to cancel a series of post-partum medical appointments because her health card expired April 7. Although she has a humanitarian and compassionate application in the queue, her temporary resident status expires on June 7.
Syrian refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station, 4 September 2015, credit: Rebecca Harms from Wendland, Germany – Ungarn September 2015, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42915678
A dreamland turned nightmare
“To me Canada was like a dreamland based on what my husband used to tell me about it,” she says. “We did not come sooner when the war started because although my husband and children are Canadian citizens, I am not, and could not come with them. We only came to Canada when I was granted a visitor visa to accompany my husband and children and after I gave birth to our third baby.”
Needless to say, the threat of deportation to Syria, where Dima Siam would be at risk from all sides of the conflict, is psychological torture. It has resulted in depression, family stress — especially for the young children, who fear they too will be deported and who won’t stay in a room unless one of their parents is constantly with them — emergency room visits via ambulance, and a range of other afflictions due to a life of constant fear and uncertainty.
Stories like Siam’s get overlooked in an era where a simple Trudeau tweet garners international praise from sloppy newspaper editorial boards who thank the Lord that he isn’t Trump, a low standard which is fairly easy to meet, if only on a rhetorical level. But on the practical, day-to-day level, Trudeau’s policies are a smiling version of Harper’s, continuing the endless grind of detention, deportation, and a refusal to regularize status for hundreds of thousands of people forced to survive in the shadows.
Nowhere is the cruelty of Trudeau’s hypocrisy more clear than in his refusal to cancel the Safe Third County Agreement. Following the chaos of the Muslim bans implemented by the Trump regime, 845 students from 22 Canadian law schools came together to conduct 3,143 hours of legal research to determine whether the U.S. can properly be considered a “safe third country” for asylum seekers and refugees. The research-a-thon was a valuable project given the increasing numbers of refugees who are forced to cross the Canada-U.S. border outside of regular ports of arrival, needlessly increasing their level of risk.
In a summary of their research, the law students found that “many persons seeking asylum in Canada who have entered from the United States face a credible threat to their security and fundamental rights if they are returned to the United States.” Among the threats for those returned to the U.S. are prolonged periods of immigration detention, limited legal access, and potential deportation to torture or death.
“Canada is in breach of the Canadian Charter if the United States violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers who Canada has refused in accordance with the [Safe Third County] Agreement,” the researchers concluded. “In Canada, asylum seekers have constitutional rights to life, liberty, security of the person, access to counsel upon detention and procedural fairness. By returning asylum seekers to the United States, Canada violates those rights. Canada also breaches its own international legal obligations not to participate in possible indirect refoulement. The authors of this report believe that Canada’s continued participation in the Safe Third Country Agreement violates Canada’s constitutional and international obligations.”