By TOM GODFREY
Immigration offenders who are detained for years by border officials should be released from jail until they are ready to be removed from Canada, says a human rights group.
Members of the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) say there are hundreds of detainees in Canadian jails who are being held for lengthy periods because their identities are unknown or their home countries do not want them back.
EIDN spokesman Syed Hussain said the Canadian immigration detention system has been blasted by a UN group for keeping detainees behind bars for years with no hope for release.
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last week issued a damning opinion about the detention system that is operated by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“This UN opinion is another nail in the coffin on any claim to integrity in the immigration detention system,” Hussain told Share. “Immigration detention is unjust jail without trial or charge and it must end.”
The opinion stems from a complaint by rights groups on behalf of Michael Mvogo, one of the longest-held detainees, who has been jailed since his arrest in 2006 at a Toronto homeless shelter.
Mvogo arrived in Canada in 2005 with a bogus U.S. passport and only revealed his true identity in 2011. The U.S., Haiti and Guinea have all refused to receive him. He now claims to be from Cameroon, but that country denies having a record of him.
“Immigration enforcement’s inability to establish someone’s identity, or to obtain travel documents from countries of origin are not grounds to detain people,” said UN officials. “These people must be released and no one should be held in maximum security prisons.”
Hussain said detainees should be released if their removal cannot take place within 90 days.
“The inability of a state party to carry out the expulsion of an individual does not justify detention beyond the shortest period of time or where there are alternatives to detention, and under no circumstances indefinite detention,” the UN group wrote.
More than 80,000 people have been detained on immigration holds in Canada under the Conservatives, and over a third of them are housed in maximum security provincial jails, according to EIDN.
Though the average length of stay in detention in 2013 was 28 days, nearly 100 detainees have been held for more than a year, the group said.
Hussain said Mvogo and others have been on a hunger strike at the Lindsay Correctional Facility in a bid to obtain their release.
Almost 3,000 people have also signed an online petition calling for the release of Mvogo and the other protesting inmates.
The groups are also demanding the freedom of a man believed to be South African anti-apartheid icon, Mbuyisa Makhubu, 56, who has been in Lindsay for a decade as officials try to determine his identification.
Mbuyisa was 18 during the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa when he was photographed carrying the dying Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old shot by police on June 16 that year.
The image, which captured the apartheid government’s brutality against the African majority population, became a symbol of resistance and June 16 has since been marked as National Youth Day.
Mbuyisa was forced into hiding shortly after the picture was published. His family last heard from him in 1978 in a letter from Nigeria.
It is believed he has been detained in Lindsay since 2004 under an assumed name.
The Network is calling for freedom for the wrongly jailed and the release of all migrant detainees who have been held for longer than three months.
They are also seeking an end to arbitrary and indefinite detention and calling for inmates to have access to basic services and be close to family members.
They also want an overhaul of the adjudication process, with migrants having access to judicial review, legal aid and bail programs.