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Deportation of former Somali child refugee amounts to a death sentence, Halifax advocates say

Fatuma Abdi. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Early this afternoon media folks and some 20 or so community members gathered at Halifax MP Andy Fillmore’s constituency office on Brunswick Street in downtown Halifax.

They were there to raise awareness about Abdilahi Elmi, a Toronto resident set to be deported to Somalia any day now, and to ask Fillmore, who wasn’t there, to lend his support. 

Elmi came to Canada as a child refugee, but the child welfare agency that was responsible for him neglected to apply for citizenship status on his behalf. He now faces deportation after he became involved in the justice system. Deportation would of course never have been an option if he had been allowed to become a Canadian citizen.  

Elmi’s case is eerily similar to that of Abdoul Abdi, the Somali refugee who a year ago also faced deportation, in his case because Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services failed to apply for citizenship for him. Abdi’s deportation was stopped after a federal court ruled in his favour.

Martha Paynter and EL Jones. Photo Robert Devet

“At that time we believed that we had won on this issue. But here we are a year later, and we see that this is still continuing. It is a systemic issue that particularly affects Black children who have been taken into the child welfare system,” said El Jones, one of the organizers of the press conference. 

Robert Wright. Photo Robert Devet

“When a child is made a permanent ward of a provincial jurisdiction in this country, the state has taken legal responsibility, care and custody on a permanent basis for that child. When we take children into care, we are effectively adopting them and pledging to care for them as a wise and conscientious parent,” said social worker and DPAD Coalition member Robert Wright.

“And I believe we have failed him. And it is our failure to provide adequately for our children generally in this state that results in their lack of education, their criminalization, and their bumpy transition into a healthy and productive adulthood. This is certainly the case for Mr. Elmi, who should not be required to pay such an extreme price as deportation to what is essentially for him a foreign country, being disconnected from its culture and language,” Wright said.

Both Jones and Fatuma Abdi, sister of Abdul Abdi, believe that Elmi will not survive if he is dumped without papers in Somalia, an extremely dangerous country at the best of time, and one that Elmi has no ties to. Elmi left Somalia when he was 10 years old, he doesn’t speak the language, and has no known relatives there.

“We’re here to plea for Elmi, and to save his life, because, like I said last year (when advocating for her brother), this is a death sentence that they are giving him,” said Abdi.

“Kismayo, the area within Somalia that Mr. Elmi is being deported to has been declared unsafe by the Canadian government. It is also where a Somali-Canadian journalist was killed only last month,” Jones said.

“It’s simply horrifying that we as Canadians, with all of this outcry about what is happening south of the border to migrant children, are not able to look at ourselves and our own practices, and treat children in our care with decency,” said Martha Paynter, a registered nurse and chair of Women’s Wellness Within, an excellent advocacy group that supports reproductive justice for women, and trans and non-binary persons who experienced criminalization.

“What we see with our incarcerated populations are the obvious devastating effects of trauma, causing criminalisation, which is what happened in Elmi’s case, repeated through the trauma of apprehension and the foster care system, repeated again through the trauma of incarceration, repeated 10 million fold through the trauma of deportation. We have to stop this,” Paynter said.

Supporters of Elmi are asking that you call Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, and Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Citizenship Immigration and Refugees, himself a Somali refugee. Tell them to stop the deportation of Abdilahi Elmi, and to retroactively grant citizenship to all people without status who have been apprehended by child welfare agencies.

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