“I need my son back”: a refugee family’s fight to stop a senseless deportation

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***I recorded the following interview on Sunday January 7, 2018 for Newstalk 1010 AM radio, a division of the BellMedia network. English is not the first language of my guest, Asha, Ali, so I have very gently edited some of her remarks for clarity. These edits appear within square brackets […] throughout the text. The audio is here.

 

DESMOND COLE: For the next half hour we’re going to talk about one of the most important ongoing stories in this country right now. This is the story of a 23 year old young man named Abdoul Abdi—you heard us speaking about him late in 2017 on this program. Abdoul was scheduled to come out of prison and be with his family here in Toronto late last week, but he never made it. After finishing a prison sentence in the east coast, he was apprehended by the Canadian Border Services Agency and not allowed to come home.

The Border Services wants to deport Abdoul Abdi—he does not have full citizenship in this country. The reason he does not have full citizenship in Canada is because Abdoul Abdi was taken from his family at a very young age as a refugee to Canada. He was put in the child welfare system, and the Department of Community Services in Nova Scotia never applied for his citizenship.

That is the only reason he is inadmissible at the time, it is the only reason he was not returned to his family and is now, as we know, in a jail cell near Edmonston in New Brunswick awaiting potential deportation.

I am very fortunate to have with me in the studio this afternoon Abdoul’s aunt—her name is Asha, and I’m going to be referring to her as “Habo” Asha in the custom traditional Somali custom. Habo, welcome to this program, thank you for being here.

ASHA ALI: Thank you so much, I’m glad you invite me here. My name is Asha Ali—I’m Abdoul’s aunt but consider myself his mom. I’ve been taken away my son, along with his sister, December 2001. I arrived here year before that year, August 2000 and it’s a long story but make sure—

DESMOND: Yes, I want to make sure we get through—this is a very long and complex story. First I want to start with what’s happening right now though—

ASHA: Okay.

DESMOND: —with the fact that you expected Abdoul to come home at the end of this week. He finished a prison sentence. When were you contacted by parole officials saying his sentence is coming to an end and he’ll be home soon.

ASHA: It was November, October, around that area last year. They said he finished his time, he’s gonna be home, some halfway house to finish the sentence, but he’s gonna reside with you soon. And that’s what happened, I was expecting yesterday to him with me in Toronto. All I hear was he’s been taken away by CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] and goes another detention centre, which is immigration, which I’m shocked right now for that. Because after he’s finished he’s supposed to be with me, his family, loved ones, instead of having this.

DESMOND: so “CBSA” for everyone out there is the Canadian Border Services Agency. It was their arbitrary choice to apprehend Abdi. There was nothing about his sentence, nothing about his situation that required him to be apprehended. He was on his way home. When was the last time you spoke with Abdoul and how was he doing?

ASHA: Last night and night before, he called me on collect call—they gave him one minute, and one minute wasn’t enough to talk to me. He said “I’m so frustrated, I’m supposed to be with you, and here I am again, not knowing where I am and why this again is happening me.”

DESMOND: Now, we wanna go back, because we know that the only reason it is possible to deport Abdoul right now is cause he does not have full citizenship in Canada. And the reason he does not have full citizenship was, as I mentioned, the child welfare system in Nova Scotia took him away from you so many years ago, and they never applied for his citizenship. So now let’s go back to 1997. You were in Djibouti with a young Abdoul and his sister, and you made contact with Canadian immigration officials.

ASHA: Yes.

DESMOND: So you applied to come to Canada as a refugee in 1997?

ASHA: Correct

DESMOND: And when you applied, how long did it take from 1997?

ASHA: 1997 to our arrival, 2000, it was three years process, long process, to be a landed immigrant here.

DESMOND: And Abdoul’s mother…you said at the top that you consider yourself to be his mom,  but his birth mom also applied during that time to come.

ASHA: Yes.

DESMOND: She was not able to make that trip—can you tell us what happened?

ASHA: She did not make it cause she was sick and had epileptic, and she passed away while we’re waiting on the process to come here.

DESMOND: So, you became the mother of these two children—

ASHA: —of Abdoul and his sister, to raise them and look after them. Although I was very young, with my sister who’s right there [gestures in studio] to raise and look after them, cause that’s the cultural custom we grew up, you know, it’s an African background.

DESMOND: And so you came to Canada caring for these two children—your sister’s children—did you tell Canadian immigration officials that these are not your children, that these are—

ASHA: —they knew from the beginning because we were under United Nations registry protection of women and children. as my country was [in] civil war (unintelligible). So they knew cause, had my sister [been] alive, she would be here with us. She would be here with us right now but unfortunately she passed away, while we waiting the process to come here.

So they knew in the process our family as a family moved to come here to land here, the mother passed away and we are aunts. But I was considered mother, take care of them and looking after them cause that’s how I [was] raised myself. My sister, the mother of the kids was [like] my mother to me, like little mother. She was second child to my mom, she looked after each of us, or my family members. She raised me as I’m speaking right now, and I’m taking care of her kids cause of that. Because that’s our cultural tradition of African families, you know, back home.

DESMOND: I understand Habo. So you came to Canada, you’re caring for these young people. You’re in Halifax, Nova Scotia now. You’ve become accepted as refugees into Canada. But at some point, the Department of Community Services in Nova Scotia, the child welfare services, came and said that they were going to take these young children away from you. What reason did they give you all those years back when you were taking care of these young kids in Nova Scotia, to say they were coming to take them away? Why? Did they give that explanation?

ASHA: They did not explain to me anything because, a) I was newcomer who doesn’t know English language, along with with my sister’s two little kids; and b) they did not give me, provide me the tools, the translation, to understand what was going on. Except all I know, the kids, after we registered [for] school, something happened. And we went to immigration to report that because we were newcomer, and immigration looking after my family as a landed immigrant.

And at that time, under the immigration support we settled there [in Halifax]. So until now, the question that I ask myself: why should I lose my kids when I’m not abusive, when I’m not neglect. Because, as I’m learning 18 years later, learning English and learning the system, I find out, in my belief I shouldn’t lose [the kids] to begin with cause I’m a good mother. I’m a loving mother.

The reason I’m today in your show and your radio, is cause had I don’t love my son, I wouldn’t be here today.

DESMOND: So these children were not separated from you, Abdoul and his sister also. We have read many reports that he was placed in up to 20 different  foster care placements during this time, and that Abdoul says some of these places were very abusive. Is that your understanding too?

ASHA: Yes, I do. He go through at lot of foster homes while I was in the court trying to gain the custody. He been through—not only him but his sister—they’ve been over 30 group homes, besides the foster homes, and they separate each other—

DESMOND: They were separated? Abdoul and his sister were separated from one another.

ASHA: They grow different places. Every single time as I’m going to family court to get them back, what I hear was he moves from one place to another, one county to another country. I t was frustrating all these years for me, and I tried so hard to get them back but it wasn’t easy for me.

I’m a good mother, I never neglect, I love more than anything, they are my world. They mean to me so much and I shouldn’t [have] lost them if they asked me, but—

DESMOND: —I’m going to just ask you to pause for just a moment cause we’re going to take a little bit of a break here.

ASHA: Okay.

DESMOND: I’m speaking with Asha, she is the aunt of Abdoul Abdi. Abdoul was supposed to be here with his family in Toronto after serving a jail sentence, but the Canada Border Services Agency didn’t allow him to leave prison after he served his time. Instead, they said ‘you are not a citizen of Canada, and now we’re gonna move to deport you,’ potentially to Somalia or Saudi Arabia. Abdi has never lived in either of these countries. Abdi does not speak the language in either of these countries. He does not know the customs. But he is at risk at this moment as we speak, and we’re here with his family.

——————COMMERCIAL BREAK——————

DESMOND: I’m back, and my very special guest this afternoon is named Asha. She is the aunt of Abdoul Abdi, who’s been the subject of so much conversation recently because instead of being able to come home after serving a jail sentence on the east coast, he has been apprehended by the border service, and now is facing deportation.

The interesting thing about Abdoul’s situation, of course, is that he was in the care of the Nova Scotia government for many years, and they were the only group that could apply for his citizenship—they never did so. And the only reason he’s facing deportation now is the neglect of the Nova Scotia government.

I’m here with his aunt Asha. Habo, thank you so much once again for joining us.

ASHA: Thank you so much.

DESMOND:I wanna talk about the issue of citizenship and the fact that DCS in Nova Scotia did not apply for Abdoul’s citizenship. You yourself are a Canadian citizen, are you not?

ASHA: Yes I am.

DESMOND: And you wanted to apply for citizenship for Abdoul and for his sister, but you lost the ability to do that when the government took him and his sister away. Can you tell us about the paperwork they made you sign at that time?

ASHA: They tried to sign me a form that’s saying, since they have physical custody away from my children, I cannot be their parent or legal guardian, or do anything on behalf of them, or give up their seeking of custody to gain back the kids, as you’re living on your own.

DESMOND: So as a result, you were not allowed to apply for citizenship for these children?

ASHA: I tried! I insist more than three times in a row, but unfortunately I couldn’t succeed because the Department of Community Services, along with Children’s Aid, blocked my way. and take me to court and said, “legal guardian of these kids permanently is us, and that’s our job. Asha should not apply [for] their citizenship.” Therefore I couldn’t get their citizenship although I’m a Canadian citizen, hardworking, pay the tax, taxpayer. But what happened [to] my kids is not their fault or mine.

DESMOND: And now Habo, I want to to talk about a very important part of the story which you told me when we first spoke, which is that you have met the minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, and you have actually told him directly about your challenge with Abdoul and your fight to get him free.What happened when you met the minister—first of all, when did you meet him?

ASHA: I met him around 2004, before my son ever even get a [jail] sentence, though my community. I told [him] the case. At that time he was trying to get elected as an MP. I was dealing [with] another MP in my area, his name is Michael Sullivan. I put the case in front of Michael Sullivan, but then Michael Sullivan confirmed [to] me, ‘there’s an upcoming election and, if we pass that election and I’m re-elected, I will look at the case.’

But instead Ahmed, when I met him, I told him the case. He said, “I will help you if I become member of parliament in your area, (unintelligible). If you become my constituent I will look at it and see the case.”

DESMOND: So you are one of Ahmed Hussen’s constituents in York South-Weston?

ASHA: Yes I am.

DESMOND: And what has he done in recent times on this issue for you?

ASHA: Nothing. I tried since the last year going back and forth his office. His secretary and his assistants asked me [for] all the documents in this case. I put them up, I gave them. and then they asked me, “come back.” Tomorrow, next day, he’s not here, he’s in Ottawa. He’s gonna meet you next week. Week after week. And then next thing I know they said, “Ahmed Hussen’s not able to help you for this case—we’re closing the file.”

DESMOND: Well we know that minister Hussen does have influence on this file. We also know that the minister of public safety Ralph Goodale has influence on this file and can deal with the fact that Abdoul is now facing deportation. They do have the authority to stop them [CBSA]. And I daresay that they might be listening to this program, and that other members of parliament may be listening to this program right now. Habo, what would you like to say to all of them.

ASHA: I would like to say: my son, after all these years I lost; it’s been 17 years since we separated. We were newcomers, we were come to here to have a chance and a better life. My son doesn’t deserve—after he grew up [in] the system, all these years, and in care of the Community Services in Nova Scotia—he doesn’t deserve whatever he go through all these years.

He doesn’t deserve being deported and put where he doesn’t have no survivor, no family member, have no culture anymore, have no connection anymore. So I wanna tell all our Canadian society, along with minister Ralph Goodale of Public Safety, and Ahmed Hussen, I want my son [to] be with me, wth his family, and he deserves to be there. Please, I need my son back. I lost him since he was sever years old. and I’m not willing, not able to lost again.

I’m a Canadian citizen. He’s supposed to be a Canadian citizen. Had he had a chance to grow [in] my care, he would be Canadian citizen right now.

DESMOND: Habo, I want to thank you so very much for your time, and for sharing this story with the Canadian public. Thank you.

ASHA: Thank you so much.

 

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