Monday, August 17, 2009

Somali Canadians feel harassed in Kenya

Many Somali-Canadians say they feel discriminated against by Kenyan immigration officials and don't get much help from the Canadian government when they encounter problems at the Nairobi airport.

The issue gained national attention following the release by Kenya of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the Toronto woman who faced criminal charges in the East African nation and deportation to her former native Somalia after Kenyan immigration officials —with Canada's consent — charged her with identity theft.

Mohamud, 31, was trying to return to Toronto in May after visiting her mother in Kenya. But immigration officials there said the photo on her Canadian passport didn't look like her and threw her in jail. Canadian consular officials agreed and urged Kenyan officials to prosecute her for allegedly using another person's passport and being in the country illegally.

Her case was dismissed on Friday and she was released and repatriated to Toronto on Saturday only after a DNA test proved her identity.

"This is not an isolated case," said Osman Ali of the Somali-Canadian Association of Etobicoke. "Many, many cases like this are happening. People are frustrated … afraid to travel with their own Canadian passport."

Hussein Adani said the last time he was in Kenya, he had to bribe immigrant officials with $50 to get out of the country even though he had a valid Canadian passport.

"Travelling to Kenya as a Somali, you are not Canadian," he said. "When they see you, they judge your colour, they don't see your passport."

The association is calling on the federal government to hold an inquiry and to compensate Mohamud for her three-month ordeal.

"The Canadian government has to send a clear message that all Canadians are equal and should be treated equally," Ali said.

The Canadian Arab Federation said many people don't trust Ottawa to protect them when they're overseas.

"Who will be next?" asked Mohamed Boudjenane, CAF's executive director. "I think as a Canadian we should be very shocked and we should be very revolted when our government is treating between its citizens differently."

Both the Canada Border Services Agency and the Foreign Affairs Department said they are reviewing Mohamud's case to determine what went wrong.

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