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.”
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.”
CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing
EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”
That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.
After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.
Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.
“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.
Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.
“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.
She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”
Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.
“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.
She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.
“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”
Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.
“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.
The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.
She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.
“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”
Canadian Mohammed Ahmed wins silver medal in Commonwealth 5,000M
CANADIAN PRESS — GOLD COAST, Australia — Canadian Mohammed Ahmed earned silver Sunday in the 5,000 metres on the first day of track and field at the Commonwealth Games.
Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei won gold in 13 minutes 50.83 seconds, ahead of Ahmed in 13:52.78 and Kenya’s Edward Zakayo in 13:54.06.
“I’ve been at the cusp for many years, but I finally get to stand on the podium and hopefully (one day) I get to climb one more step,” said the 27-year-old Ahmed, who was fifth in the 5,000 and sixth in the 10,000 at the 2014 games in Glasgow.
Ahmed was sixth in the 5,000 and eighth in the 10,000 at last year’s world championships, both Canadian-best finishes. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he was fourth and 32nd, respectively, in the races.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Ahmed spent the first 10 years of his life in Kenya before his family moved to St. Catharines, Ont.
A Somali-Canadian’s reflections on Refugee Rights Day in Canada
MUSLIM LINK — Refugee Rights Day is a day to create awareness in the public consciousness about the rights and protection of refugees in Canada. Celebrated on April 4th, this day is significant particularly for refugee claimants because it brings attention to the advances made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1985 Singh Decision. In this decision, the Supreme Court found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees. The Court decided that ‘everyone’ includes refugee claimants in the sentence: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’
Refugee claimants are therefore entitled to the right to have their refugee claim heard, in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international law.
I came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia. I live in Victoria, BC, a city with a growing refugee community.
Every year on June 20, cities and communities in Canada and around the world celebrate and commemorate World Refugee Day which gives the world a chance to focus its attention on forced migration and refugee issues.
But World Refugee Day wasn’t celebrated in Victoria.
I wanted to change that.
I wanted the city, community organizations, community members, faith groups and elected officials etc to come together to celebrate and recognize their coworkers, neighbors, friends, supervisors, doctors etc who have refugee history in their families, or refugee or former refugees to honor refugees and recognize their resilience.
I really wanted to see the community coming together to talk about how we can be more welcoming and create more empathy and understanding for our shared future in this city.
Days like Refugee Rights Day and World Refugee Day create an opportunity to raise public awareness about the long-term challenges refugees in Canada face beyond just settlement.
What many Canadians often don’t realize is the importance of family reunification after part of a family is able to settle in Canada. One of the many shared experiences of refugees is family separation, which has devastating impacts on their wellbeing, and their ability to contribute more to their host countries. Keeping families separated is not good for Canada. When families are united they are able to contribute more to the economy and the mental health of the family is greatly improved.
As a Somali Canadian, I have seen the negative impact of delayed family reunification all to well. I like to think that Somali people are resilient, resourceful and friendly people. I take pride how Somali people have strong family values and support each other, because of that, I was privately sponsored as a refugee to come to Canada by my uncle.
In 2015, just three countries produced half the world’s refugees, and Somalia was one of them. Many Western countries are closing their doors on Somali refugees and that includes Canada. For the last few years I have been advocating to make it easier for African refugees to come to Canada through the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Even though Canada has provided a new home to many Somali refugees in the decades since the fall of Siad Barré, it has not offered special immigration measures to respond to the longstanding catastrophic situation in Somalia as it has with other communities. On the contrary, some immigration policies have particularly discriminated against Somalis, with devastating consequences.
In February 1993, Canada’s Immigration Act was changed so that accepted refugees had to provide satisfactory identity documents in order to be granted permanent residence. Many Somali and Afghan refugees could not provide satisfactory identity documents, because of the lack of a functioning government in their country of origin. Others were also affected, but the Somalis were by far the most numerous to be caught up in the ID issue over the coming years. The consequences for refugees who could not become permanent residents were dire:
They could not reunite with spouses or young children outside Canada.
They could not go to university or college (unless they could afford to pay foreign student fees). They were not eligible for student loans.
They could not travel outside Canada.
They often could not get better-paid jobs as employers didn’t want to hire someone without permanent status.
People’s mental health suffered because of their powerlessness.
By 1999 the number of people in limbo was estimated to be 13,000. Finally in 2000, the government agreed to the settlement of a legal challenge, launched in 1996, which argued that the ID rule was discriminatory against Somalis (the case is called Aden). Under the terms of the settlement, Somali refugees without ID would be able to submit instead affidavits from someone who knew them before their arrival in Canada or from a credible Somali organization in Canada. The terms of the agreement were written into the 2002 regulations of the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
During the 1990s, it was often pointed out that keeping thousands of refugees in limbo would have devastating long-term social impacts. Even though the ID issue was largely resolved a decade ago, some of the struggles in the Somali Canadian community today may well be at least partly due to the impacts of the policies, which are felt into the next generation. Families were only reunited after a long separation, people were unable to educate themselves or get decent jobs, and many fell into depression. Many Somalis felt that their community had been rebuffed and rejected by the government.
Somalis being Muslim and Black faced discrimination, but the community resisted and remained resilient and thrived despite the challenges by community coming together and organizing and building social networks which have helped refugees who have came after 2000s. Somali refugees like me.
am so proud of the Somali Canadian community for all the things they have achieved, I have traveled in the last six years across the country, and met Doctors, Lawyers, Business people, scholars, activists, social workers, public servants, community leaders all of Somali origin. Many Canadians are of course familiar with Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Somali Canadian Ahmed Hussen who came to Canada Somali as 16 year old refugee.
Somali Canadians work hard to continue making Canada a better place – a place that I hope will welcome more refugees. The Somali community’s experience must be retold again and again, so we can learn from it. The Somali community have a lot to share to improve the settlement and integration of refugees today.
I was a refugee for more than two decades before arriving to Canada. It was these experiences that have convinced me to dedicate my life to creating more just, inclusive and peaceful communities; both in my new home country of Canada and in areas where conflict and instability continue to ravage and destroy many lives. I appreciate that these have led me to become who I am, and that’s why I continue to work harder to play my role to make Canada a better place for everyone.
I have worked with a variety of refugee populations in protracted situations in various urban and camp-based locations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Fortunately I continued my work with refugees when I arrived in Canada. I facilitie volunteer support services for refugees in Greater Victoria at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and formerly facilitated wraparound support services for vulnerable immigrant and refugee youth in Greater Victoria at Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. I closely work at the national level with the Canadian Council for Refugees — this gives me the opportunity to work around policy issues while locally I work on frontline issues. Through my life experience and my work with refugees at various organisational and community-based levels, I have gained a deep understanding of the protection-related issues refugees are facing in their countries of origin and asylum. This has strengthened my ability to strong advocate for refugees.
One of the big questions I am exploring now is how can Indigenous communities and refugee communities learn more about each other and work in solidarity with one another.
I recognize that as a new Canadian citizen, I am a guest on this beautiful Victoria/Lekwungen territory… land that rightfully belongs to the First Nations.
We are all settlers – including those of us who came here as newcomers or migrants, either in this generation or in generations past, whether voluntary or as a result of war, persecution or conflict.
Unfortunately there is lack of education for newcomers about the history and realities of Indigenous communities upon arrival. Often newcomers pick up negative stereotypes about our brothers and sisters who are Indigenous peoples. I think settlement agencies can draw out some of the similar challenges and cultural similarities of newcomers and Indigenous communities — they may share similar experiences with injustice due to persecution, oppression, colonization, discrimination, stereotyping and exclusion. One in five Canadians is an immigrant so it is crucial to continue building bridges and respectful relationship in order to continue the reconciliation process.
I hope after reading this you will take the time to educate yourself more about refugee rights in Canada.
This year, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is running the campaign slogan “Protecting Refugees = Stronger Communities
CCR and all its member organizations are calling on the Government of Canada to:
Resettle 20,000 government-assisted refugees annually.
Ensure applications of privately sponsored refugees are processed within 12 months.
Reform the refugee determination system so that all claimants have access to a fair hearing before an expert independent tribunal.
To conclude, I would like to quote my role model in refugee advocate Barbara Harrel-Bond, who said “Refugees are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”