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Why Turkish diplomats are pressuring Canada’s Somali diaspora

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd, who are celebrating the results of the referendum, at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on April 17, 2017. (Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

McClatchy — Early last August, a group of Somali community leaders was invited to the Turkish consulate in Toronto to meet with some Turkish parliamentarians. The meeting was one leg of a Canadian tour for the visiting politicians, which also included trips to Ottawa and Montreal, and the theme of the tour was the July 15 attempted military coup in Turkey.

The Turks, armed with a narrative worthy of a John Le Carre novel, laid out the details of how a secretive cult, with tentacles stretching around the world, had, over decades, infiltrated the power centres of the Turkish state, culminating in the violent attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government.

The group of 20 or so Somalis who were present greeted the Turkish delegation warmly. In 2011, Turkey rescued Somalia from a punishing famine and has continued to provide the Somalis with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. “Anybody who cares about Somalia, cares about Turkey,” one attendee, Issa Muse, stood up and proclaimed.

The Turkish government has also cultivated a strong relationship with Canada’s Somali community, the largest Somali diaspora in the world. Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen, who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Somalia in 1993, was present at the Toronto meeting. He had developed close ties with Turkey’s ruling elite during his tenure as president of the Somali Canadian Congress.

Normally, a meeting like this would hardly raise eyebrows, but there was nothing normal about Turkey in August 2016.

The coup attempt, which left hundreds dead and saw tens of thousands of civilians flood the streets to confront the putschists, left deep scars. In its aftermath, the ruling AK Party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared a state of emergency and launched a massive purge to weed out what it described as the terrorist “parallel structure” responsible for the attack, the Gülen movement.

Hussen was in Istanbul on the night of the coup attempt, reportedly on vacation with his mother. But, according to local sources, he was also there as a guest of some high-level AK Party politicians, including Kenan Sahin, the mayor of Istanbul’s Pendik district, and Cemalettin Kani Torun, the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission. The next day, he described what he experienced that night to Canadian media in glowing terms.

“The preservation of democracy is very important,” Hussen told Global News, “and to witness regular people—students, workers, regular folks in Istanbul—come out in the thousands and peacefully defend democracy and also celebrate the preservation of democracy was quite special to me.”

Others saw something very different. Some observers noted that nightly “democracy” rallies organized by the AK Party were infused with rhetoric that would make most democrats cringe. Erdogan was lauded as the saviour of the nation; songs were written in his honour and looped in public squares for hours on end.

The international community watched with trepidation. Within days, thousands had been arrested, including judges and bureaucrats accused of being members of the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization,” or FETO.

Foreign journalists, including a Maclean’s reporter, were harassed and detained, while many of their local counterparts were thrown in jail.On April 16 this year, Turkish citizens voted in a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that would transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into a highly centralized presidency, securing Erdogan’s dominance. By then, Gülen supporters all over Turkey were on the run.

The AK Party had also turned up the heat internationally. After the coup attempt, Gülen supporters in Europe and elsewhere, including Canada, had been put under heavy scrutiny by Turkey’s intelligence services. Some European Union governments took exception to Turkey’s referendum campaigning in their cities, arguing that AK Party leaders were using language that sowed discord among Europe’s large Turkish diaspora, including calling a “No” vote a vote for the “terrorists.”

The international community, including a small team of election observers from the EU, warned that the referendum results not only violated the basic principles of fairness, but would also lead to a dismantling of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Erdogan, with his signature bravado, accused Europe of having a “crusader mentality.”

In reality, the coup attempt gave Erdogan the tools he needed to ensure a referendum win. It set in motion a more aggressive Turkish foreign policy and it ignited an AK Party push to extend its influence—and pursue its enemies—around the world, including in Canada.
The August gathering of Somalis at the Turkish consulate in Toronto—to discuss a coup attempt led by Turks in Turkey—seemed odd to some of those who were present. “It was strange,” Omar Hassan, chairman of the Somali-Canadian Business Council, told Maclean’s. “The Turkish delegation referred to the Gülenists as terrorists and everyone clapped. Hussen talked about the close relationship between Turkey and Somalia but never contradicted the ‘terrorist’ label.”

A spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, where Hussen has since been appointed minister, told Maclean’s the meeting was only one of many Hussen attended that day. “He arrived late from another meeting,” Bernie Derible said. “And he didn’t stay until the end. He said a few words and he left.”

Derible added that there was nothing out of the ordinary about Hussen’s visit to Turkey in July. It was a trip that Hussen, who was not in Cabinet at the time, paid for himself and made in a personal capacity. “The minister is one of those guys,” he said. “He meets with people. He talks to local elected people. But there was nothing they talked about in an official capacity.”

Hassan, who has close ties to Gülen-run organizations in Canada, says he was nonetheless disturbed by what he witnessed at the meeting. The Somali prime minister at the time of the coup attempt, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who is also a dual Canadian-Somali citizen, had sided with the Turkish government. Within days of the failed putsch, Gülen-run schools and a hospital in the capital of Mogadishu were seized and turned over to the Turkish embassy.

Years of AK Party financial support to Somalia had paid off, Hassan said. “And it felt to me like, at that meeting, Turkey was trying to pressure the Somali community into marginalizing the Gülen community in Canada. And Hussen did nothing to challenge that.”
The Turks, however, were facing a less amenable audience elsewhere. Judy Sgro, the MP for Humber River-Black Creek in Toronto, home to the Gülen-affiliated Nile Academy school, told Maclean’s in October last year that Turkey should stop harassing Canada’s Turkish diaspora and “focus on the people living in Turkey.”

“This is such a wonderful community,” she said of the Nile Academy’s staff, students, and parents. “I’ve been visiting them for years and I can’t say anything negative. Their values are Canadian values.”

Still, a senior diplomatic source in Canada told Maclean’s that Turkey has been using whatever leverage it can find to sideline its critics in Canada, including putting pressure on other diaspora communities, like Somalis, who have close ties to the Turkish state.

The diplomatic mission in Toronto, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity, has been monitoring senior Gülen members and reporting their activities back to Turkey, a charge the Germans have been levelling against the AK Party in their country for at least a year.
Unlike Germany, Canada does not have a significant Turkish population. But, despite their small numbers, Gülenists in Canada play an outsized role in the Turkish calculus, the senior diplomat said, because of the close proximity of the U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen, the reclusive cleric who heads the group. Turkish authorities worry that Canada may provide safe sanctuary for him in the event the Trump administration decides to extradite him back to Turkey.

So far, Canada has tried to stay out of Turkey’s intrigues, though it has accepted the asylum claim of one Turkish diplomat, the former vice-consul at the Turkish consulate in Toronto, Gökhan Toy, who is accused in Turkey of being a member of FETO.

“Canadian governments, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, do not want to rock the boat,” the senior diplomat said. “Turkey is a key NATO ally and essential to the fight against ISIS. Canada doesn’t have a lot of influence over the Turkish government to begin with, so why would it raise tensions? There is nothing to be gained.”

Others, however, warn that if Canada does not take a position soon, it could find itself at the mercy of Erdogan’s authoritarianism. The spying allegations are particularly worrisome, according to one security expert in Istanbul, who also requested anonymity.

Under Erdogan, he explained, Turkish intelligence agencies have been given sweeping powers to conduct operations at home and abroad with little to no oversight. Under the new presidential system, control of the intelligence community will likely shift to the president, who has already demonstrated his penchant for using it against his perceived enemies, particularly in Europe.

“Canada should not be so confident that it has been spared,” the expert warned. “As Turkey loses its diplomatic legitimacy in western countries, it will rely more heavily on secret channels to pursue its interests. We’ve seen this process before, in Iran for example. When the revolutionary regime came to power, it did so without the support of most of the international community. So instead of dealing openly with the world, it went underground. It relied on its spy agencies to get the information it needed. Turkey is heading in the same direction.”

Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

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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.”

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Canadian Mohammed Ahmed wins silver medal in Commonwealth 5,000M

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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.

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A Somali-Canadian’s reflections on Refugee Rights Day in Canada

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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.”

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