Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

18 days.

Friday, February 11th, 2011


Click on CC for English subtitles
The graffiti behind the father and daughter reads "The streets belong to us"

My daughter was seven years old on September 11. For the past decade – i.e. the entirety of her childhood, the only one she'll ever get – she has had to endure taunts and slurs and snickers, or at best pinched "tolerance," about her ethnicity and her religion. She's handled it well and is actually quite articulate in countering the bias. But it's fatiguing, and over time she has distanced herself from her Arab Muslim background. I can't tell you how much this saddens me, but I know she's not alone in this reaction, I know her life needs to be more than an ongoing argument with other people's ignorance, and I've tried to give her space to work out who she is and how she identifies.

She turned seventeen this week, and it's a milestone. For the first time ever, I have seen her beaming, in that I told you guys all along way, whenever some only-sorta-follows-the-news American asks her, "Wait… aren't you Egyptian?"

شكرا يا مصر

ACLU victory

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

A federal court recently ruled that Ashcroft can be held personally responsible for the wrongful detention of an innocent American.

It's something. We'll see where it goes from here.

This month in hate.

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Muslimah Media Watch on the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini

BBC News entitled their piece “Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr‘”. Additionally, they describe the murderer’s initial actions toward Sherbini as “insulting her religion” – an inaccurate statement, as W. insulted Sherbini herself, not her religion. Making such a statement skews the reality of the case and paints the story as the “Muslim angry over insult to Islam” trope. Stating this lie trivializes Sherbini’s very real experience of personal hate and Islamophobia. It diminishes W.’s hateful actions toward a Muslim woman. It ignores the fact that it was human being who was hurt, not a religion.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond…

California: FBI investigating death of Muslim leader in High Desert

The FBI is investigating the death of a Muslim leader whose body was found inside a burned home in Yermo that had recently been spraypainted with racial epithets and Nazi symbols…

When firefighters doused the flames 40 minutes later, they found the body of 51-year-old Imam Ali Mohammed inside the East Yermo Road house he had moved his family out of last month.

"We don't know if it was simply an accident or if there is foul play involved," said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. "We just don't know if a crime occurred yet."

(Why is this a mystery?)

Seattle: Man charged with hate crime for threatening Muslim woman

The woman, who was holding her six-month-old son, tried to reason with the 24-year-old Auburn man by saying that her "her clothing does not make her a bad person," court documents said. When the insults didn't stop, prosecutors said, the woman backed away from Garner and tried to shield her son from him.

Garner then cursed at the woman, got in her face and pulled out a large sheathed knife, court papers said. Garner told the woman he was going to "cut" the woman and her baby with the knife, charging documents said.

Minnesota: Minnesota withdraws "Run Hadji Run" fireworks from shelves

Miami: Miami-Dade police have charged two teens in the latest vandalism of a West Kendall mosque and school that has been targeted twice this year

Gonzalez-Vaca told police that the vandalism had been planned for months. He said "all Muslims are terrorists," according to the report….

Six months ago, the mosque was sprayed with 51 bullets that left broken windows and holes in the building's golden dome. In June 2005, unknown assailants used a large rock to shatter the door of the Islamic center, which draws 500 Muslims for Friday prayers and has a 250-student religious school.

The year before, the center's sign near Southwest 147th Avenue was defaced with a Nazi swastika and profanity. No arrests have been made in the prior vandalisms.

Frakking cool.

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

'Battlestar Galactica's' trip to the United Nations

Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos appeared with two of the show's executive producers, four UN officials, and moderator Whoopi Goldberg at a panel to discuss human rights, religious conflict, terrorism, gender issues, and other moral conflicts and dilemmas addressed on Battlestar Galactica. The whole panel (about two hours) is available on the UN webcast archives (scroll down to 17 March 2009).

Later, McDonnell responded eloquently to a question about the imperatives of the military versus the rule of democracy and Roslin’s role in executing the fleet’s enemies. For a woman who had been perceived, early on, as a tentative former schoolteacher, President Roslin didn’t blink when it came to tossing a fractious Cylon into space. In fact, in time fans started to call her character “Madam Airlock.”

“She can talk about how she was haunted by the airlock,” Eick said. “But she’s also the one who made it a verb.”

But what if the prospect of crossing borders to commit crime makes you happy and relaxed?

Friday, October 10th, 2008

'Pre-crime' detector shows promise

The US Department of Homeland Security is developing a system designed to detect "hostile thoughts" in people walking through border posts, airports and public places. The DHS says recent tests prove it works.

Project Hostile Intent as it was called aimed to help security staff choose who to pull over for a gently probing interview – or more.

Commentators slated the idea that sensors could spot people up to no good from their pulse rate, breathing, skin temperature, or fleeting facial expressions. One likened it to the "pre-crime" units that predict criminal behaviour in the movie Minority Report.

Imagine my shock that wiretapping would be used inappropriately.

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

NSA spying on soldiers' phone sex calls

You've got to be kidding me.

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Changing your name is enough to get yourself off the no-fly list.

I can never decide whether to be relieved or embarrassed that our police state is so inept at policing the state.

I miss having three branches of government.

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

"Hi, I'm George Bush, and I'm here to take all your shit."

Two points bear repeating here. One, from the blog post itself:

One problem is that the order cannot be attacked in the courts as unconstitutional unless and until it is used against someone, because no one else would have ’standing’. Being the political animals that they are, the first time they’ll use it will probably be against an undeniable sleazebag, someone almost certainly guilty of the charge. He’d have standing to challenge the order, but the ACLU and other interested groups would be trapped into ‘defending’ a terrorist. And that assumes that someone would be willing to violate the order by taking the case and risking having their entire firm’s assets frozen indefinitely.

And two, from one of the comments:

Q. But if you haven’t done anything wrong, there’s no reason to worry, right?

A. Yeah, unless you have spent any time at all thinking about who’s deciding what “wrong” is.

Vote or else!

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Egyptians beat those who don't vote in favor of "democracy."

I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to work that way.

Update on torture in Egypt.

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Opening the window
By Amira Howeidy

The New York-based international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), released a 43-page report on Tuesday documenting mass arrests and torture in Sinai following the 7 October bombings at the Taba Hilton and two Sinai tourist camps, which killed 34 people, and injured 159.

Two weeks after the bombings, the Interior Ministry identified the assailants as nine Sinai residents; five were in custody, two were killed in the attack, and two remained at large. The ministry said the ringleader — one of the two suspects killed during the bombings — was Iyad Said Salah, a Palestinian with a criminal record who had turned to Islamist extremism, provoked by the Israeli incursion into Rafah at the time into carrying out the attack. Although the ministry announced that the investigation now boiled down to a hunt for the two remaining suspects, subsequent events revealed a far wider security operation was actually taking place.

At least three Egyptian human rights groups documented that mass arrests continued until early December. According to these groups, 2,500 to 3,000 people were detained without charges. The impact of this revelation, made just two months ago, was short lived, limited to a few reports in the opposition press; other news — from the release of an Israeli spy to Coptic-Muslim tension in Upper Egypt — soon drove the story into the background.

Joe Stork, the Washington-based director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Egyptian human rights groups had "opened a brief window" on the case, "then it was shut again. We are trying to open the window." Stork wrote HRW's Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai report, and carried out its research with Ahmed Seif El-Islam, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, and Aida Seif El-Dawla, chair of the Egyptian Association Against Torture.

They visited Sinai in mid-December for two days, interviewing former detainees, and eyewitnesses to arrests in Al-Arish. In every one of the score of cases HRW investigated, the State Security Investigation (SSI) apparatus had detained individuals without informing them of the reason why. They were usually arrested in pre- dawn raids (many during the month of Ramadan), and those who were picked up were usually held for three days to one week without being charged. While some were released, most were transferred to Tora prison in Cairo and Damanhour Prison in the Nile Delta, the report said. Most of the detainees were Islamists, or thought to be. "This suggests that the official statement [issued by the Interior Ministry on the Sinai bombings] did not fully reflect the investigation into the attacks," the report said, "or that the government was using the occasion to carry out a much broader crackdown against potential opponents, particularly identified as having Islamist sympathies."

HRW said it interviewed several former detainees who provided "credible accounts of torture" at the hands of SSI investigators; others spoke of seeing other detainees who had been badly tortured. The report included horrifying testimonies from two of the detainees. 26-year- old Hamid Batrawi, whose four brothers were already in custody, was arrested on 22 November while driving from Al-Arish to southern Sinai. He was taken to a police station near Suez, and then transferred to the SSI headquarters there. Upon his arrival, the SSI officers asked why he had not mentioned that his brothers had been arrested. He was then stripped to his underpants, his hands tied behind his back, and hung by his hands from the top of an iron door, "causing excruciating pain to his shoulders". With his toes just touching the floor, which was wet, wires were attached to his toes and underpants. He was then beaten with a hose, and administered jolts of electricity every couple of minutes; the shock intensified when his toes rested on the wet floor. This continued for about four and a half hours, after which he was transferred to Suez hospital. When Seif El-Dawla visited him in hospital, she said he could not talk, see or walk.

The second detainee, Abdel-Nour Sayed (not his real name) was picked up from his home at 3am on 18 October; he was held with 200 other detainees for six days in small rooms with no toilet facilities. He told HRW that he was tortured during his first interrogation session upon the orders of a man "who did not speak" and who "was not Egyptian".

Although the report does not address the possible involvement of non-Egyptian interrogators, Sayed's words re-triggered questions about the nature of Israel's role in the investigation. Egypt allowed the Israeli army to enter the area immediately after the bombings to help with rescue operations, official statements at the time said.

Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai was released during a well-attended press conference at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre; significantly, around a dozen female relatives of the detainees had come to Cairo from Sinai for the event.

Iman Ahmed Himdan said that security forces stormed her house looking for her husband Ahmed Abdallah Himdan, who was at large. "When they didn't find my husband at home, they took my 16-year-old brother, and started threatening him, and calling him indecent names," Himdan, who wears a black niqab (face veil), said. "The police didn't know I was Ahmed's wife, but when I saw my little brother go through this, I was provoked, and shouted, 'I'm Ahmed's wife, leave my brother alone.' So they took both of us," she told the Weekly. The couple had only been married for three months, and Himdan was two months pregnant. "We were taken to the SSI north Sinai headquarters. My brother was blindfolded, stripped, and beaten severely. Both of us were threatened with electrocution if we didn't tell them where my husband was. We were held for a week, during which I had a nervous breakdown, and an abortion." Himdan and her brother were only released when her husband handed himself in. He's still in custody, she said.

Himdan's cousin, Samah Abu Shita, had a similar experience when police stormed her house "from the window, the balcony and door", during which they stepped on her four-month-old baby girl, and broke one of her ribs. "Our men have done nothing but live as committed, practicing Muslims; they have nothing to do with any illegal activity, and they haven't been charged with anything," she said. Her husband and four brothers have been in custody since November. According to the HRW report, only 100 detainees have been released; some 2,400 remain in detention.

Other victims of the post-Taba bombing security crackdown include the director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, who told reporters at Tuesday's press conference that his house was broken into, and his laptop stolen, at around the same time that the centre issued its initial report on the Sinai arrests. "Back then I thought it was just a burglary," he said. But then, on Monday 21 February, his house was broken into again — this time in broad daylight at noon. His new laptop was stolen, and all of his papers thoroughly searched. "I got the message," he said, "and this is my reply: I will not be silenced, and I will gladly give my blood for freedom."

The press conference fell into a shocked silence.

"There is this disregard, this lawlessness, on the part of the security services that even goes beyond the emergency law, that the authorities have not addressed," Stork told the Weekly. "They have not investigated these abuses, as far as we know, or prosecuted anybody. This issue of impunity is a very important one."

Since December, Stork's requests to meet with Egyptian officials have been ignored; only on the eve of the press conference, on Monday at "midnight", was he informed that he would be meeting with officials at the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General.

In what appears to be a coordinated government reaction to the HRW report, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday taking issue with HRW for not notifying the authorities in advance about the report, "to allow time for a studied response". That HRW issued this report based on fieldwork, the statement said, "demonstrates Egypt's openness and transparency in human rights issues". It rejected HRW's recommendation that the Egyptian government cancel the emergency law, arguing that only the "Egyptian people have the legitimate right to end the emergency law though their representatives in parliament".

It said that only five people were held in custody in connection with the Taba bombings.

Big Brother keeps us safe from zombies in Kentucky.

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Student Arrested For Terroristic Threatening Says Incident A Misunderstanding

A George Rogers Clark High School junior arrested Tuesday for making terrorist threats told LEX 18 News Thursday that the "writings" that got him arrested are being taken out of context.

Winchester police say William Poole, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday morning. Investigators say they discovered materials at Poole's home that outline possible acts of violence aimed at students, teachers, and police.

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Poole disputes that he was threatening anyone.

"It didn't mention nobody who lives in Clark County, didn't mention (George Rogers Clark High School), didn't mention no principal or cops, nothing,"
said Poole. "Half the people at high school know me. They know I'm not that stupid, that crazy."

On Thursday, a judge raised Poole's bond from one to five thousand dollars after prosecutors requested it, citing the seriousness of the charge.

Poole is being held at the Clark County Detention Center.

The end.

Monday, December 27th, 2004

Fed up with dealing with the Patriot Act, Tariq Ramadan resigns his position at Notre Dame.

No comment.

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

44 percent of Americans queried in Cornell national poll favor curtailing some liberties for Muslim Americans

ITHACA, N.Y. — In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should — in some way — curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.

About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage. In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.

Conversely, 48 percent of respondents nationally said they do not believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted.

The Media and Society Research Group, in Cornell's Department of Communication, commissioned the poll, which was supervised by the Survey Research Institute, in Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The results were based on 715 completed telephone interviews of respondents across the United States, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The survey also examined the relation of religiosity to perceptions of Islam and Islamic countries among Christian respondents. Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent). Fewer of the respondents who said they were not highly religious described Islamic countries as violent (49 percent), fanatical (46 percent) and dangerous (44 percent). But 80 percent of all respondents said they see Islamic countries as being oppressive toward women.

"Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war," says James Shanahan, Cornell associate professor of communication and a principal investigator in the study. Shanahan and Erik Nisbet, senior research associate with the ILR Survey Research Institute, commissioned the study, and Ron Ostman, professor of communication, and his students administered it.

Shanahan notes: "Most Americans understand that balancing political freedoms with security can sometimes be difficult. Nevertheless, while a majority of Americans support civil liberties even in these difficult times, and while more discussion about civil liberties is always warranted, our findings highlight that personal religiosity as well as exposure to news media are two important correlates of support for restrictions. We need to explore why these two very important channels of discourse may nurture fear rather than understanding."

Researchers found that opinions on restricting civil liberties for Muslim Americans vary by political self-identification. About 40 percent of Republican respondents agreed that Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts, compared with 24 percent of Democratic respondents and 17 percent of independents. Forty-one percent of Republican respondents said that Muslim American civic groups should be infiltrated, compared with 21 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents.

On whether mosques should be monitored, about 34 percent of the Republicans polled agreed they should be, compared with 22 percent of Democrats. Thirty-four percent of Republicans said that profiling of Muslim Americans is necessary, compared with 17 percent of Democrats.

The survey also showed a correlation between television news-viewing habits, a respondent's fear level and attitudes toward restrictions on civil liberties for all Americans. Respondents who paid a lot of attention to television news were more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties, such as greater power for the government to monitor the Internet. Respondents who paid less attention to television news were less likely to support such measures. "The more attention paid to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties," says Nisbet.

The Onion.

Thursday, November 25th, 2004

White House Thanksgiving Turkey Detained Without Counsel

WASHINGTON, DC — Cousin Wattle, the official National Thanksgiving Turkey who was to have been pardoned by President Bush in an annual White House ceremony that dates back to the Truman administration, is currently being held without formal charges or access to legal counsel, White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirmed Tuesday…

Dodging military service, Homeland Security, and the Patriot Act.

Monday, November 8th, 2004

Apparently our neighbors to the north have already set up a web site, Marry An American, to meet the growing needs of liberals fleeing "four more years of cowboy conservatism." 🙂

But as a Nov. 7 Boston Globe article points out, the idea isn't as much of a joke as one might expect. For 200 years Canada has provided refuge to various groups of Americans, including Quakers who didn't want to fight in the Revolutionary War, Native Americans who thought the Canadians would be better at respecting their treaties, African-Americans before and after slavery (though most especially between 1850-1865, after the 1850 passage of the Fugitive Slave Act but before the end of the Civil War), American intellectuals escaping McCarthyism, and of course Vietnam draft-dodgers in the 1960s.

The "stay-and-fight!" crowd certainly has a point. The Republican reaction to threats to emigrate might best be summed up as don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out, and progressives are right to be wary of abandoning their country to those who would do the most damage to it. On the other hand, I've yet to see much discussion over what the word "fight" actually means. Does it mean voting? Rallies and demonstrations? Op-ed letters to American newspapers? Writing angry screeds on the internet? Making radical art and music? Paying taxes? Evading taxes? Signing all those MoveOn petitions? All of these things can be accomplished whether one is sitting in New York or New Zealand.

I understand that many people express their activism in other ways, perhaps primarily through their paid employment, but I admit to scratching my head in confusion at the level of venom being spewed at those who are talking about emigration, when both those doing the talking and those doing the spewing maybe have a blog and work in a bank and vote for a Democrat once every four years. "Stay and fight" is a great bumper sticker slogan, but I need a better definition of what activists are doing in America that they couldn't do outside America before I'm willing to mock those who are thinking of leaving.

More to the point, is it maybe just a teeny tiny little bit possible that there are certain groups who could be MORE active if they weren't worried about ending up on some watch list? I'm thinking in particular of two groups for whom emigrating is a last-ditch option: soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq (or whatever new adventures we'll be getting into under the new Bush administration), and men of Middle Eastern origin between 18-35 who have been asked to "register" with Homeland Security.

So I did some research.

General information

As clever and tongue-in-cheek as that Harper's piece on leaving the country is, it starts with the premise that the reader is American and that "leaving the country" = "renouncing your citizenship." In the real world, of course, you don't need to give up your American citizenship to become an expatriate abroad, though you can always get additional passports if you qualify for them [visit this site for an excellent FAQ on obtaining or retaining dual citizenship]. And it's worth pointing out that those looking most longingly at foreign shores right now probably never had the comfort of an American passport in the first place; legal immigrants and undocumented persons from Middle Eastern countries are the ones with the most to fear from the present administration.

This is the official page for those wishing to move to Canada.
Expertise in Labour Mobility has general information about working abroad.
The Council on International Education Exchange has general information about studying abroad.

This piece talks about entering Canada illegally. The author, "Anonymous," left the U.S. after a felony conviction for growing marijuana made it impossible for him to get a job. (Good comments on the politics of the drug war, too.)

Information for soldiers

Last month's issue of Mother Jones did a piece on soldiers who are refusing to fight in Iraq, which included the profile of two young men who fled to Canada:

"So far, only six U.S. soldiers are known to have fled to Canada rather than fight in Iraq. But in 2003, the Army listed more than 2,774 soldiers as deserters (military personnel are classified as having deserted after not reporting for duty for more than a month), and many observers believe the actual number may be even higher; the Army has acknowledged that it is not aggressively hunting down soldiers who don’t show up. The GI Rights Hotline, a counseling operation run by a national network of antiwar groups, reports that it now receives between 3,000 and 4,000 calls per month from soldiers seeking a way out of the military."

The piece points out that getting conscientious objector status under an all-volunteer army is harder than it was under the draft, for obvious reasons:

"Unlike Vietnam, when young men facing the draft could convincingly claim that they opposed all war, enlistees in a volunteer military have a tough time qualifying as conscientious objectors. In the Army, 61 soldiers applied for conscientious objector status last year, and 31 of those applications were granted. 'The Army does understand people can have a change of heart,' notes spokeswoman Martha Rudd. 'But you can’t ask for a conscientious objector discharge based on moral or religious opposition to a particular war.'"

On the other hand, the nature of the war in Iraq raises other questions. Jeremy Hinzman, a soldier who served in Afghanistan but refuses to go to Iraq, is basing his case for refugee status in Canada on the illegality of the war:

"[Hinzman] cites the Geneva Conventions on War and the Nuremberg Principles; [he and his lawyer] maintain it is a soldier's obligation to refuse illegal orders, and to refuse to participate in war crimes. Jeremy Hinzman's refugee claims also points to the case of a Russian soldier who was granted refugee status in Great Britain after refusing to fight in Chechnya. It cites the UN Handbook on Refugees, which includes in its refugee definitions, soldiers who refuse to participate in wars that have been 'condemned by the international community as contrary to the basic rules of human conduct.'

A key question that the Immigration and Refugee Board will have to answer is whether the jail sentences surely awaiting war resisters in the U.S. would amount to 'persecution for their political or religious beliefs,' as outlined in the UN Handbook on Refugees. [Hinzman's lawyer] Jeffry House gives an unequivocal affirmative on this point.

'To imprison someone for doing the right thing and refusing to participate in war crimes is persecution, pure and simple,' says House."

Another overview of Hinzman's case is available here, including contact information for his lawyer Jeffry House, a former Vietnam-era draft dodger who is now helping soldiers AWOL from Iraq find asylum in Canada.

The author of both these pieces, Gerry Condon, also resisted the draft during the Vietnam era. He points out that the process of seeking refugee status in Canada can take years — possibly outlasting the Iraq war itself — and, even if a claim is ultimately rejected, soldiers will be given the option of going to a third country rather than deported to the U.S.

(By the way, I thought this quote from the Mother Jones article was really touching: "Joe Bangert, a founding member of Vietnam Veterans of America, addressed the group. 'One of the most painful things when we returned from Vietnam was that the veterans from past wars weren’t there for us,' he said. 'They didn’t support us in our questioning and our opposition to war. And I just want to say,' he added, peering intently at the younger veterans, 'we are here for you. We have your back.'")

Other possible resources include:
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Veterans Against the Iraq War
War Resisters Support Campaign
Soldiers Say No
Canadian Friends Service Committee

Information for Middle Easterners

In 2002 the U.S. and Canada signed the Safe Third Country Agreement, which stipulates that refugees can make their claims in the first of the two countries they enter: "That means claimants trying to enter Canada through the United States would be turned back and told to make their claims in the U.S. … each recognizes the other as a 'safe third country.'" The terms of this agreement make it difficult for someone to claim refugee status in Canada on the basis of one's treatment in the U.S. But as Gerry Condon noted above, the refugee process in Canada is a long one, and often buys refugee-seekers enough time to make other arrangements. More information on Canada's refugee policies is available on their official web site.

However, one need not be classified as a refugee to move to Canada. The easiest way is to marry a Canadian citizen. Interestingly, Canada selectively recognizes same-sex unions for the sake of immigration purposes, which conveniently doubles a person's options. 🙂 You can also be sponsored by a blood relative with Canadian citizenship, though the process takes longer.

Regardless of nationality or marital status, foreigners can study in Canada for up to six months free and clear. This may afford asylum-seekers the time they need to explore other possibilities for remaining in Canada. American citizens (naturalized or otherwise) can get automatic permission to study in Canada for longer than six months. Nationals from one of these countries must apply for a Temporary Residence Permit to stay in Canada for more than six months.

Canada has a point system to judge who is qualified to immigrate as a "skilled worker." Qualifying applicants must have some combination of education, work experience, work experience in Canada specificially, language skills (English or French), and/or family in Canada. Assess your eligibility. (I recently heard, via word of mouth, that the waiting list for this type of visa is 19 months.)

Those with money and/or business skills can apply under the Business Immigrant program. The assumption here is that you will "contribute to the cultural or athletic life of Canada." In general, Canada seems amiable to those who have the skills or resources to support themselves and hostile to those who may not. It's a NAFTA thing.

If Canada is unappealing — keep in mind Montreal's average temperature in January is -11 Celsius — there's always Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Ireland, and The Netherlands, though it must be said that Europe's ability to live in harmony with its Arab/Muslim minority can make the U.S. look like a pinnacle of tolerance. WorkPermit.com has information about working in Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking countries.

Many immigrants have returned to their countries of origin, but this isn't an option for those who left totalitarian regimes out of a fear of political persecution in the first place.

Resources:
Human Rights Watch
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Civil Liberties Organization
National Lawyers Guild
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
VIVE, Inc.

In the meantime know your rights if you are approached by the FBI (guide available in English, Arabic, Farsi, Punjabi, Spanish, and Portuguese).

Personal stories:

  • A Washington Post profile of Jeremy Hinzman
  • Jeremy Hinzman's homepage
  • Homepage of Brandon Hughey, another soldier represented by Jeffry House (see above) who refused to go to Iraq
  • U.S. crackdown drives Muslims toward Canada
  • Pakistanis seeking haven in Canada
  • Muslim exodus from U.S. unravels tightknit enclaves

    And finally, something to ponder for those who think this is all so much silly exaggeration.