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Canadians call for return of relative held in Ethiopia



AL JAZEERA — A Canadian family is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate the release of a citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia saying “there will never be a better time than now to get him home”.

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 49, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 on charges of “terrorism”.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, accuse Makhtal of being a ringleader for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a rebel group pressing for self-rule in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region – and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ethiopia classifies the ONLF as a “terrorist” organisation.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, however, do not.

Makhtal, whose grandfather was a founding member of the ONLF, has always declared himself innocent, saying he was in the region to promote his clothing business.

Now, more than a decade on, the Ethiopian government’s recent release of thousands of political prisoners and peace talks with the ONLF have given Makhtal’s family further impetus in campaigning for his release.

‘There is hope’
Asiso Abdi, Makhtal’s wife, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian authorities could be persuaded to include Bashir among those freed, if Canada applies adequate diplomatic pressure.

“If the government of Justin Trudeau is willing to get Bashir home, there will never be a better time than now,” Abdi said. “When there is a life, there is a hope.”

Canadian officials say they are exploring every possible option to bring Makhtal back to Canada.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met Makhtal during a diplomatic visit to Ethiopia in April 2017.

Negotiating Makhtal’s release is a priority for the Canadian government, he told Al Jazeera.

“Our objective is to see this happen as soon as we can… At every opportunity, the discussion with Ethiopian officials regarding Mr Makhtal happens,” Alghabra said.

“[But] these conversations are not easy… The Ethiopian government see him as someone who has been convicted and is serving a sentence.”

Despite mounting diplomatic pressure, Ethiopian officials continue to deny Makhtal is a political prisoner and block his release from jail.

Metasebia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera recent prisoner releases were specifically intended to “create a broader political space within the country”, and will not affect Makhtal’s status.

“Bashir Makhtal is not an Ethiopian, he is imprisoned due to the terrorist crimes he committed,” Tadesse said. “One cannot mix his case with the current measures taken by the Ethiopian government.”

When questioned, Tadesse refused to provide Al Jazeera with further details regarding the nature of the “terrorist crimes”.

‘An unfair trial’
Rights group Amnesty International said Makhtal has been detained unfairly.

“Once charges were laid against Makhtal we pressed for him to be provided with a fair trial and an opportunity to mount an effective defence, such as by having full access to allegations, evidence and witnesses against him,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

“That was not the case, nor was his appeal hearing a fair process,” Neve said.

Lorne Waldman, Makhtal’s Canada-based lawyer, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopia had subjected his client to a number of extrajudicial measures: including an illegal extradition and torture.

“Bashir’s version of events has been the same since the beginning, that he was in Somalia doing business … [and] when there was the [Ethiopian] military incursion into Somalia he, like thousands of others, fled to the Kenyan border,” Waldman said.

“He was detained at the border and taken into custody in Nairobi, and from Nairobi he was illegally spirited on a private plane to Ethiopia without any formal extradition proceedings,” he added.

“Then he was tortured and charged under the anti-terrorism provisions in Ethiopia, before being prosecuted in what people generally felt was an unfair trial, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.”

Extraordinary rendition
Amnesty said Makhtal’s transfer to Ethiopia was “tantamount to an instance of extraordinary rendition”, adding it was “very likely” he had been subjected to torture or other forms of cruel treatment in Ethiopia.

The prevalence of torture in Ethiopia – described as a “major problem” in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report – and Makhtal being held incommunicado at the beginning of his detention support Amnesty’s concerns regarding mistreatment, Neve said.

Authorities in Ethiopia did not acknowledge they had imprisoned Makhtal until July 2007, six months after his arrival in Addis Ababa, his relatives told Al Jazeera.

Nearly 11 years later, Makhtal’s family still has little clarity about whether Ethiopia will release him.

Some 12,000km away from his prison cell in Ethiopia, Makhtal’s absence in Canada continues to be felt every day, Abdi told Al Jazeera.

“They took my husband and with him my future happiness,” she said.

“I have already missed 11 wedding anniversaries with him, 11 years of my life have gone. I’m missing a half of me deep inside the dark cell of an Ethiopian prison.”


Remembering the ‘Somalia Affair,’ Canada’s Forgotten Abu Ghraib Moment



VICE NEWS — On the night of March 16, 1993, 16-year-old Somali Shidane Abukar Arone was caught trespassing by Canadian soldiers deployed in his country. Shortly after midnight, he was dead.

At the time, Somalia was in the midst of a brutal civil war that had sent more than 1.5 million refugees—a fifth of its population—fleeing beyond its borders. Thousands were dying every week from starvation and lack of medicine. Desperately needed humanitarian aid was being stolen by militia leaders and sold on the black market. In December 1992, Canada sent a 1,400-strong force as part of a UN peace-enforcing mission to ensure the food got to Somalis in need.

Four months later, Arone snuck into the perimeter of the Canadian base in the town of Belet Huen, 341 kilometres north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and was found hiding in a portable toilet by a Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) patrol. Arone didn’t resist arrest, claiming he was looking for a lost child. The patrolmen suspected he was a thief. Arone was taken to an underground bunker in the Canadian encampment, tied up and blindfolded.

What happened next is surely one of the ugliest incidents of modern Canadian history.

Over several hours, Arone was savagely tortured by Airborne soldiers. Subsequent court-martial testimony revealed he was waterboarded, punched in the jaw, hit by a metal bar, repeatedly kicked, and the soles of his feet burned by a cigarillo. According to several accounts, he was sodomized by a stick that was also used to beat him.

Upwards of 80 soldiers could hear Arone’s screams over the roar of a nearby electric generator. One soldier later testified he heard a “long dragged out howl”—before returning to his Game Boy. Others stopped by to comment their fellow soldiers had a nice trophy. Arone’s last words were a moaning repeated intonation of “Canada, Canada.”

Shidane Arone’s name shouldn’t be forgotten in 2018. There is a clear throughline between his demise and the fate of people such as Abdoul Abdi, a Somali former child refugee now facing deportation from Canada back to a country he fears only offers him certain death. Arone and Abdi are just some of the many names that have fallen through the cracks. We need to remember these names so their fates aren’t repeated.

Two men were eventually charged with Arone’s murder and torture: Master Corporal Clayton Matchee and Private Kyle Brown, members of the 2 Commando section of the Airborne. Matchee, a Cree man, was later reported to have bragged that “the white man fears the Indian and so will the black man.” Sixteen photographs were taken by the two men that night, with both Brown and Matchee posing with the bloodied semi-conscious Arone. The same day Matchee was arrested, he was found hanging by his bootlaces in his cell, and was left irreversibly brain-damaged. Brown, who was part Cree, was eventually sentenced to five years imprisonment and dismissed from the armed forces. Seven others were charged, including a major who issued the order that thieves caught sneaking into the camp could be “abused” as a deterrent, an order that was taken to a grotesque extreme. Most of the soldiers court-martialed were acquitted or only reprimanded.

Canadians back home were shocked, especially when a video surfaced featuring members of 2 Commando spouting racist remarks, with one stating Somalis “never work, they’re lazy, they’re slobs, and they stink.” Days later, footage of a hazing video emerged in which Airborne soldiers appeared to be smeared with human feces that spelled out “I love the KKK.” A 1994 Washington Post articlenoted the affair “dealt a blow to Canada’s image as the postwar era’s preeminent international peacekeeper, and to Canadians’ self-image as a people naturally adept at mediating and stabilizing foreign conflicts.” Arone’s death sparked a military internal inquiry and, in 1995, the federal government commissioned a public inquiry. The questions on Canadians’ minds were: How could this have happened? And why did none of the soldiers do anything to stop it?

Canadian peacekeeping had been riding high at the time after a successful decades-long UN-led mission in Cyprus that came to a close in 1993. Somalia proved to be a challenge of a different order; the crises of the Rwandan genocide and the Yugoslav Wars were still ahead. Over the course of several inquiries, the Canadian public discovered Arone’s murder was far from the only troubling incident.

From the start, the Canadians had issues with thieves and looters in and around their base, many of them children. Firing their weapons in the air didn’t work; the conflict-accustomed locals didn’t flinch. There was no real Somali authority in place to punish or incarcerate prisoners the Canadians apprehended. So a number of morally questionable measures were employed to deal with the problem. Children caught stealing were bound, blindfolded, and left in the sun for hours, with a sign bearing the word “Thief” in Somali hanging around their necks. Twelve days before Arone’s death, Airborne troops used bait to snare thieves, a dubious action that ended with two Somalis shot, one fatally in the back. All told, six Somalis were killed by Canadian soldiers during their deployment.
As these details were revealed, allegations of multiple cover-ups also emerged, from shredded Department of National Defense documents to “trophy” photographs of soldiers posing with bound Somali prisoners being ordered destroyed. The CAR, a proud elite regiment since its creation in 1968, was disbanded in shame in 1995.

Even before these recommendations, the Somalia Affair narrative had transitioned from the horrifying acts perpetrated by Canadian soldiers towards the national trauma they caused. Its victim shifted from Arone and other Somalis to Canada’s self-identity. In 1996, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno wrote: “How typically Canadian that we become more animated and reactive, and outraged over the chain of responsibility, or the chain of collusion, or the chain of concealment, then we did over the original crimes and deplorable conduct of Canadian peacekeepers.”

It’s impossible to say Canada’s legacy of residential schools and colonialism didn’t rear its ugly head on March 16, 1993, when two Cree victims of racism—Matchee was nicknamed “Geronimo” by his fellow soldiers, a moniker he loathed—perpetrated acts of brutality when they believed they had free licence to do so. Right before the March 16 torture started, Matchee was advised by his section commander to beat Arone with a phone book to avoid leaving marks, a practice some policemen in Saskatchewan, Matchee’s home province, were alleged to have used on First Nations men. Matchee’s family got hate mail and bomb threats after Arone’s murder went public, with one letter stating: “Indian, welfare bum. You deserve to die.”

Even if it arguably hasn’t eliminated racism within its ranks, some of the Canadian military’s changes seem to have worked. In Afghanistan, a case arose in 2008 where a Canadian soldier mercy killed a severely wounded Taliban soldier, and was subsequently court-martialed. But nothing nearly as grotesque as Arone’s murder has occurred since.

Canada’s involvement in peacekeeping has still steeply declined since the Somalia Affair. To distance himself from the Conservatives during the 2015 electoral campaign, Justin Trudeau pledged a renewed commitment to peacekeeping, to the tune of $500 million and 600 Canadian troops. Not much has happened since; potential involvement in a UN-led mission in Al-Qaeda-threatened Mali never came to anything. Back in the 2015 electoral campaign, there were only 68 Canadian peacekeepers in the field. Jump to February 2018 and the sum of Canadian peacekeepers is 40, half of them policemen.

And yet, peacekeeping remains popular with the Canadian public. The Somalia Affair has become a minor blip in what Canadians feel is an otherwise unblemished history of peacekeeping. Almost 70 percent of Canadians support deploying Canadian Forces on UN peacekeeping missions in active fighting areas, according to a 2016 Nanos poll.

Trudeau’s Liberals don’t seem to be interested in peacekeeping. They’ve already gotten grief over multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including vehicles which may have been used on Yemeni civilians, and seem keen to avoid the kind of quagmire that Somalia and Afghanistan proved to be. Their peacekeeping initiatives have been more or less limited to things like devoting $21 million to increase the number of women in the field. Meanwhile, they’ve reduced the initial promise of 600 soldiers to a 200-strong task force for temporary deployments.

And what of Somalia now, 25 year later? The endless cycle of violence ravaging the country since the 1980s continues. On February 23, two car bombs killed 45 in Mogadishu in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab. But Canada is staying out of Africa for the foreseeable future, despite plans to increase the military budget from the current $18.9 billion to $32.6 billion by 2029.

But the public inquiry never heard testimony on Arone’s murder. The inquiry was prematurely shut down in 1996 and ordered to produce a report the following year. The report’s conclusions didn’t focus on racism in the military that seemed inherent in the actions of Matchee, Brown, and others. It blamed a lack of understanding of Somalia culture, the harsh climate, as well as the demoralizing toxic environment created by locals who were known to throw rocks and spit at the Canadians ostensibly there to help them. Many soldiers felt the Somalis were ungrateful, as Somalis largely saw the UN involvement being motivated by Western self-interest. A lack of education within the armed forces officer ranks was also found to be problematic. Only 30 percent of officers at the time had university degrees; Matchee and Brown’s non-commissioned section commander had only completed eighth grade.

In 1997, 100 recommendations were presented to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to reform the military, including making post-secondary education mandatory for all officers, putting an emphasis on ethics in military college curriculums, and the creation of an independent military journal. Racism in the military became one element in a complex situation, rather than the central issue demanding tackling.

As for Arone’s family, the Canadian government compensated his clan the value of 100 camels (approx. $15,000 USD), which they had demanded as blood money. Arone’s parents later sued the Canadian government for $5 million, but the suit was dismissed in 1999. The judge wasn’t convinced the government had a care of duty towards Somali citizens and ruled there was no evidence Arone’s parents had suffered because of their son’s death.

Twenty-five years on, Arone’s death still raises more questions than it answers. The world has problems and Canada does have a lot to offer to help. But are we willing to pay the price for getting involved, for more convoys of fallen soldiers rolling in procession down the Highway of Heroes, for more potential Rwandas and Somalias? Are we ready to do things differently in the future? These are questions we have to ask ourselves. For the time being, we’re avoiding them and staying put.

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The shameful attempt to deport a man who’s been in Canada since childhood



THE CONVERSATION — As migration scholars and detention experts, we will show that while perhaps lawful, this deportation is the accumulation of governmental historical, social and moral failures. Abdoul arrived in Canada as a six-year-old child, and is a product of this country. His deportation should be halted.

Abdoul was born in Saudi Arabia to a Somali mother, and spent four years in a Djibouti refugee camp. Eighteen years ago, he was only six years old when he claimed asylum in Nova Scotia. With his mother deceased, Abdoul arrived in the care of his sister and aunts.

The province intervened to remove Abdoul from his aunts’ care. The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services then placed him in foster care until he aged out of the system. Abdoul was in 31 different “care” arrangements: Permanent and temporary foster homes, halfway houses, hospitals, wards and so on.

Not one addressed his struggles, and some were abusive. The government did not apply for citizenship for Abdoul despite pressure from the Abdi family.

When Abdoul was about 18 years old, he was convicted on criminal charges. He served four-and-a-half years in prison and was released to a halfway house. It was at the gates of this house that the Canada Border Services Agency arrested him, took him to an immigration detention facility and began deportation proceedings to send him to Somalia.

Abdoul has never lived in Somalia, a country under an extreme travel advisory alert.
Until they apply for and are granted citizenship, asylum-seekers are only granted permanent residence in Canada. Canadian law stipulates that asylum-seekers or permanent residents who receive criminal convictions carrying custodial sentences exceeding six months may be deported. Abdi’s conviction falls under this category.

This deportation order is wrong. With the support of his sister Fatuma Abdi, the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter has begun an anti-deportation campaign called All Out 4 Abdoul. His removal is being legally contested by his lawyer, Benjamin Perryman, with the support of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto.

Through news conferences, social media and mainstream and prominent media coverage, Abdoul and his supporters have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ahmed Hussen, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, to use their discretionary powers to stop the deportation. The Federal Court is now hearing the case.

Why has Abdoul’s plight struck such a visceral chord?

‘Scapegoats’ for poor policy

We argue that Abdoul Abdi’s case illuminates how Canada is failing asylum-seekers, criminalized people and visible minorities. The federal government’s ongoing and persistent efforts to banish Abdoul to Somalia indicate how asylum-seekers have once again become the scapegoats for poor policy.

We find local and federal government failures at various points culminating in this deportation order. On these grounds, we argue it’s the government’s responsibility to stop the deportation.

Firstly, Nova Scotia failed to provide Abdoul’s aunts, themselves newcomers, with the full support they needed to raise the child and to keep him safe.

The decision to remove the child from his aunts contradicts the evidence that the best outcomes for children occur when they remain with their families. Nova Scotia is grappling with a disturbing history of abuses at the now-shuttered Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in Dartmouth, where a provincial inquiry is entering its third phase. The decision to remove Abdoul should be situated within a system plagued by institutional racism.

What’s more, as a Crown ward, the state shuttled Abdoul among 31 different living arrangements in 12 years — on average, this is a new home every four-and-a-half months. Abdoul has alleged that some of these homes were abusive.

Clearly, the state failed to provide him with sufficient care and support to assist him to make good life choices.

Crown wards at greater risk of committing crimes

Governments cannot control an individual’s actions, but we know that people from disadvantaged backgrounds commit crimes at a higher rate than the overall population. As a Crown ward, this child would have been at greater risk of offending. The community is right to expect that the support provided to Abdoul should have been commensurate to the risk.

The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services also failed to execute its duty to assist Abdoul in becoming a citizen. Given the logistical and other barriers hindering Crown wards from applying, this assistance was its policy-mandated responsibility.

Surely, it’s logical to have more long-term residents as citizens, and fewer people here as asylum-seekers, permanent residents, or other less-than-full statuses. At least 15 cases of former child refugees facing deportation are surfacing; of these, at least three have been deported to a country they have no connection to because of criminal activity after they turned 18.

Morality aside, this practice breaches international law: Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Childstate that everyone has the right to nationality and citizenship.

Finally, and most fundamentally, the government of Canada is failing to recognize that Abdoul Abdi, who arrived in Canada as a six-year-old child, is the product of their state. Indeed it could be argued that, as a Crown ward, Abdoul is even more a product of the Canadian system than others who were raised within a nuclear family unit.

By attempting to deport Abdoul, the Canadian government has indicated an adherence to biological determinism: The view that Abdoul’s “nurture” — his social ties, relationships and mutually reinforcing personal and community histories — matters less than his “nature” as a perpetual foreigner.

The Somali Canadian community already faces significant challenges from “systematic, institutional racism on the part of schools, police and intelligence agencies and the media.”It would be a shame if the federal government fed in to false — not to mention racist — perceptions by continuing its efforts to deport Abdoul Abdi.

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Former child refugee may be sent back to Somalia after 18 years in Canada



Fatouma Abdi, Abdoul Abdi's sister, and her son Kayden Cockerill-Abdi arrive at Federal Court in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A former Somali child refugee who has spent most of his life in Canada will face a deportation hearing on Wednesday.

Abdoul Abdi, 24, who grew up in foster care in Nova Scotia but was not granted Canadian citizenship, was detained by the Canada Border Services Agency after serving five years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

A sociologist familiar with Abdi’s case said he arrived in Canada at 6 years old and was moved 31 times between various foster homes.

Abdi’s sister, Fatuma Abdi, has said the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services failed both of them by not providing a path to Canadian citizenship.

The hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET in Toronto.

With files from The Canadian Press

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