A 16-year-old Syrian boy who arrived at the Canadian border with the United States claiming refugee status last month, is facing deportation back to the U.S, even as the Liberal government has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada.
The boy who’s been identified only by his first name, Mohammed, to protect his identity was taken into custody by Canadian officials and placed in isolation for three weeks in a Toronto detention centre.
Last week, officials with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) ordered the boy deported. Under Canada’s third safe country agreement with the U.S., Ottawa no longer accepts refugees who come through the States unless they have relatives in Canada or claim asylum not at the border but at one of the immigration offices inside the country.
But his lawyers say the boy is an unaccompanied minor and should be allowed into Canada to claim refugee status.
Aviva Basman of the Refugee Law Office in Toronto called it “outrageous” that Mohammed was not only denied entry but was detained in isolation for three weeks.
“Everyone who’s involved in Mohammed’s case has found the way CBSA treated him quite shocking,” she told CBC News. “We’re talking about a 16-year-old Syrian boy who’s just trying to find protection.”
Mohammed has since been released from the centre and is being housed at Romero House, a Toronto shelter for refugees.
Mohammed says his family fled Syria for Egypt after the war began. But when Mohammed turned 16, his residency permit in Egypt expired. He faced being sent back to Syria and being conscripted into the military.
Fearing that, his parents flew with him to the United States and then arranged to get him to the Canadian border, Mohammed says. They believed Canada’s openness to accept Syrian refugees meant he would be safe here while they flew back to Egypt.
The family has cousins in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.
Mohammed was scheduled to be deported on Feb. 18, but on Monday, border officials delayed that for a week. His lawyers are now appealing to the minister of immigration and refugees to allow him to stay and have his case heard by a refugee determination board. The minister, John McCallum, has yet to respond.
“This Liberal government is a very pro-refugee government,” said Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee lawyers. “I’m hopeful that the minister will intervene on his behalf.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed remains at Romero House.
He’s passing his time helping other recently arrived refugees from Syria settle into Canada. He says he hopes to remain in Canada, finish high school and study to be an engineer.
With files from CBC News