Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Story of Zahir Ofuq: Canada relegates migrant to legal limbo

by Craig Fortier (Research by Ian Munroe)
Basics #13 (Apr/May 2009)

Afghan writer and philosopher Zahir Ofuq endures 15 years with no rights, no status, says it’s like being in an “open air prison”.

TORONTO – On a rainy and windy day at a Toronto rally calling on the Canadian government to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Zahir Ofuq stands atop the makeshift stage and explains how the combined occupation of his country Afghanistan and Canada’s immigration system have torn him from his family and confined him to life with neither status nor rights.

Zahir Ofuq fled Afghanistan with his family in 1992 after the rise of the warlord regime of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masood. Zahir belonged to a communist group in Afghanistan with links to the previous central government in Afghanistan. Zahir was a tireless defender of human rights, and was imprisoned by the government he worked in for twenty years for his opposition to human rights violations. However, after two years in prison, the government fell and Zahir and his family fled to Pakistan, where his family remains, in hiding, to this day. Zahir subsequently came to Canada to apply for refugee status.

At the Immigration & Refugee Board, Zahir’s application for refugee status was turned down, even as Canada was gearing for war against the very regime that Zahir was fleeing. Even though he was never personally accused of involvement in any of the atrocities, and was in fact jailed for opposing them, his membership in the party was enough for the Canadian state to exclude him from refugee status.

The Canadian government, however, did not deport Mr. Ofuq because under Canadian policy, Afghanistan was deemed too dangerous to deport failed refugees. Thus, Zahir lingers in legal limbo, unable to acquire the status he needs to work, have rights, and sponsor his family here in Canada. Recently, his application for a visa to visit his severely ill daughter in Germany was denied.

Macdonald Scott, an immigration consultant with Carranza Barristers and Solicitors, and a member of No One Is Illegal-Toronto, has been working on Zahir’s case since 2006. He explains, “The thing is, he’s like person-non-grata with everyone. Someone who’s an anti-imperialist or a human rights activist, it’s like the last thing I think Canada and the United States wants is to see an independence movement in Afghanistan that’s really autonomous…”.
Zahir understands that his lack of immigration status is a direct result of Canada’s imperialist war in Afghanistan. It is for this reason that he has worked closely with No One Is Illegal and other anti-imperialist organizations in Toronto to oppose Canada’s occupation of Afghanistan. He notes that the Canadian government’s claims on why they are occupying Afghanistan are hypocritical and untrue.

He explains his case: “I think this is a very, very bad argument from immigration, because personally when a person is not guilty, you cannot make him guilty by saying it is so. The other point is now they are not going to accept me to give me status because of my affiliation with a particular political party, but Harper sends troops to Afghanistan to save the same party’s members, the leadership of the same party - they’re in parliament in Afghanistan. They send the troops to save the parliament, but I’m guilty, they’re not guilty? Where’s the logic?”
Zahir’s case is not unique. It is estimated that there are over 200,000 people live in Canada with no immigration status, with at least 80,000 in Toronto alone. Under new Conservative immigration laws like Bill C-50, more and more people are being pushed towards legal limbo, losing status and having applications rejected.

On May 2nd, Zahir will take to the streets with thousands of others on May Day to demand: “Enough is Enough!” And to state “No One Is Illegal!”. The march will begin at Allen Gardens at Dundas and Sherbourne at 12pm and will be preceded by a community festival on Friday, May 1st starting at 6pm at Steelworker’s Hall, 25 Cecil St.

For more information on No One Is Illegal and Zahir’s case go to