No Lives in Limbo

By Gloria Nafziger
Refugee, Migrants and Country Campaigner, Amnesty International

I first met Luis and his family shortly after they arrived in Canada sometime in 1993.  He was a writer and human rights activist from Colombia.  Both he and his wife Diana had been targeted in Colombia because of their work in support of human rights.  Shortly after they arrived in Canada they made a refugee claim. We couldn’t talk much, because his English was poor and my Spanish was even worse; but from the beginning I considered him to be a compañero. My first vivid memory of Luis is a day in December 2003 when Luis, Diana and their friends from the Mennonite church came to our office to share the good news that just an hour or so earlier their refugee claim had been accepted on the spot at their refugee hearing.  There were many hugs and much happiness.  Luis and Diana began to plan to begin their new lives in Canada and quickly made their application to become permanent residents.

All refugees and new immigrants in Canada must undergo a security check in order to ensure they are admissible to Canada.  Usually this is a paper review.  Luis and Diana were called for an interview in Canada prior to their refugee hearing.  They were asked questions about the groups they associated with in Colombia.  In Luis’ case there were questions about his affiliation with an organization called the Patriotic Union. Luis answered all of the questions truthfully, and assumed the questions were behind him as no concerns were raised at his refugee hearing, and he was recognized as a Convention Refugee. 

In June 2004 Luis and Diana received a letter from the Canadian Border Services Agency inviting them to an interview with Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) regarding matters of inadmissibility.  They were alarmed, and sought the advice of a lawyer who attended the interview with them. The interview never took place.  Luis’ lawyer asked questions about the purpose of the interview, and asked if there were allegations against Luis.  No answers were provided. The lawyer informed CBSA that Luis would be happy to attend an interview after he is provided with a list of questions and concerns regarding the purpose of the interview. No answer was ever provided.  After years of waiting, Diana became a permanent resident in January 2014. Luis continues to wait for a decision on his application to become a permanent resident.

Amnesty International has supported Luis throughout his journey in Canada. We have repeatedly raised the concern that the Colombian government has frequently portrayed human rights defenders and organizations they affiliate with in Colombia as subversive organizations with links to ‘guerrilla collaborators’.  It is alarming to think the Canadian government has adopted the view of the Colombian government in Luis’ case. Amnesty International has an extensive record of cases of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and community organizers being targeted and killed for their human rights activities in Colombia.  It is alarming to think that Luis is being denied residence in Canada for his lawful and peaceful activities as a human rights defender.

Amnesty International is increasingly concerned that a growing number of individuals are being barred from making refugee claims in Canada as a result of being found inadmissible.  The inadmissibility decisions in Canadian law appear to go far beyond the grounds for exclusion laid out in the United Nations (UN) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention).

Amnesty International has, over the years, made repeated submissions to Parliament when new inadmissibility provisions, expressly barring individuals from making refugee claims, were introduced in Canadian law.  We have noted that the provisions often went beyond what is permitted under the Refugee Convention or other international human rights treaties such as the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  We also highlighted on several occasions that the inadmissibility provisions were often drafted in very broad terms which could apply to a wide swathe of individuals.  Amnesty International is also concerned that certain individuals, like Luis, have been held in limbo in Canada for years; with NO decision ever made as to whether or not they are inadmissible to Canada.

Luis has launched a campaign, asking the Canadian government to make a decision on his application for permanent residence. He wants to know that his rights as a Convention Refugee will be fully protected.

Find out more about Luis’ campaign No Lives in Limbo

See the Canadian Council for Refugees  Refugees in Limbo and From Liberation to Limbo