Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dozens Join Hunger Strike in Support of Pregnant Ottawa Syrian Refugee Fighting Deportation

For Immediate Release
Rural Refugee Rights Network
(613) 267-3998

Dozens Join Hunger Strike in Support of Pregnant Ottawa Syrian Refugee Fighting Deportation

Almost three dozen people across the country will launch a chain-fast hunger strike on Friday, May 20 in support of Ottawa's Dima Siam, a pregnant, stateless Palestinian Syrian refugee who is fighting a deportation order to Syria. They are demanding that the federal government grant her the same permanent resident status now enjoyed by over 25,000 recent Syrian arrivals.

        "Until the start of Ramadan in June, many of us will be fasting for one or more days to demand that Immigration Minister John McCallum intervene in this case and do the right thing by granting her status, ending the fear and nightmares her family experience on a daily basis with this limbo they live under," says fast organizer Matthew Behrens of the Rural Refugee Rights Network. A petition launched by Behrens in support of Dima Siam has gathered almost 22,000 signatures, yet the Liberal government continues to delay action on the file. (See petition at

        "We are doing this because we heard Dima was so desperate that she herself was about to start a hunger strike," continues Behrens. "That's how desperate she and thousands of others who live in a stateless limbo in this country are feeling. Every single hour of every single day. How do they begin to move forward with their lives never knowing what will happen to them? The limbo just makes worse the trauma they already experienced living in the Alyarmouk Camp south of Damascus, from which they came to Canada in late 2012."

        Amnesty International has written in support of Ms Siam, noting, "As a Syrian woman Dima Siam faces a wide range of serious human rights abuses in Syria,” adding, “anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection.”

Dima Siam's three Canadian children: "Our Mum is Our Sun Who Lights Our Days"
    Dima Siam's oldest child also made a personal plea to the Prime Minister on his mother's birthday,

        Dima Siam is married to a Canadian citizen and they have three Canadian children who are worried that they might lose their mother. The children are experiencing anxiety and behavioural issues at school and, when at home, never play alone in a room for fear that if they are not with their mother, she may be scooped up by immigration authorities and deported to the war zone of Syria.

        Ms Siam, a teacher, currently has a Humanitarian & Compassionate (H&C) Application before the Liberal government, but she has been informed that it may not even be examined until nine months from now, after the baby is born, because they are demanding an Xray for her health check.  Ms Diam has passed all other requirements for landed status in Canada. While public pressure has brought about waiving the first stage of the H&C process, and the Minister has offered (but not delivered) a temporary resident permit (without which Dima cannot access OHIP during her pregnancy), the family is exhausted from three years of applications, thousands in fees, and no guarantee that the latest application will be approved without immediate ministerial intervention.

        Despite these frustrations, the family takes some heart from the mass of support they have received from people across the country. "Your solidarity feels like a remedy to my broken heart," Siam wrote in a statement to supporters.  "It gives some hope to see there is still humanity left in Canada."

        Siam's problems all stem from a minor 2013 paperwork error on her original sponsorship application; the delay in seeking landed status was exacerbated by the feds wrongly issuing her an application for a pre-removal risk assessment, which they then, one year later, refused to act upon because they said they couldn't.

        "We have been sent to the hospital emergency room from panic attacks, we are depressed, this is ruining our family," says Mohammad Al-Rayyan, a systems engineer who is scratching his head about the difficulties that have befallen his family. "The Trudeau government has done good things welcoming Syria refugees. When they sent the latest people overseas to get more refugees, we asked if they would come to Nepean on their way out of town, interview Dima, and make a decision right then and there, like they do in Jordan or Lebanon. No response. And so we wait."

        To arrange an interview with the family or for more information, call (613) 267-3998 or email

Those taking part in the chain fast:

Friday, May 20, Michelle Chamberlain, Peterborough, ON, Brenda Dolling, Caledon, Ontario, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON, Fahad Alam, Naseer,
Saturday, May 21, Mary Cowper-Smith, PEI, Caitlin, Tracy Carnahan, Friya Bastani, Mississauga, ON
Sunday, May 22, Murray Lumley, Toronto, ON, B. Machado,
Monday, May 23, Myriam Faraj, Joanna Badran, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB
Tuesday, May 24, Kheft Kaligari, Winnipeg, MB, Ora Waldman
Wednesday, May 25,  Heather Barclay,
Thursday, May 26, Nora Azfam,
Friday, May 27, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON, Amenda Walton, St. Catharines, ON
Saturday, May 28, Matthew Behrens, Perth, ON
Sunday, May 29, Kim Jackson,
Monday, May 30, Dwyer Sullivan, Kitchener, Ontario, Anna Malla, Toronto, ON, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB
Tuesday, May 31, Matthew Behrens, Perth, ON
Tuesday, May 31, Màire Ní Bhroin                   
Wednesday, June 1, Judith Mills
Thrsday, June 2, Marcia Perryman and Mary McBride, Belleville, ON
Friday, June 3, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON
Saturday, June 4
Sunday, June 5, Christine Rhodes
Monday, June 6, Fatema Nakhuda, Toronto, ON, Karen Madsen, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Grant Syrian Refugee and Ottawa Resident Dima Siam Permanent Residency in Canada

Please sign this petition to allow a stateless Syrian refugee permanent residency in Canada:

Dima Siam, left, with her husband Mohammad and their three children, is fighting deportation from Canada to Syria because of a simple paperwork error. We are seeking the same status for Dima Siam as was recently granted to 25,000 other Syrian refugees welcomed to Canada: permanent residency.

(Below is the text of the petition)
To: John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary to Mr. McCallum; Jenny Kwan, NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

We are asking you to grant immediate Permanent Resident status to Dima Siam, a stateless Syrian Palestinian who lives in Ottawa with her husband and three children, all of whom are Canadian citizens.

Since January 29, 2015, Dima Siam, a teacher with university degrees in education and biology, has lived under the threat of deportation from Canada to Syria, the very war zone from which Canada has recently received 25,000 refugees. Amnesty International writes: “As a Syrian woman Dima Siam faces a wide range of serious human rights abuses in Syria,” adding, “anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection.”

You can provide Dima Siam with that protection by exercising your discretion under Section 25.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and granting her the same Permanent Resident status enjoyed by over 25,000 Syrians recently welcomed to Canada. You have shown compassion and common sense in resolving cases like Dima Siam’s that were left over from the previous government, and we trust you will do so once more upon considering the facts of this case.

Needless to say, the threat of deportation to Syria, where Dima Siam would be at risk from all sides of the conflict, is psychological torture. It has resulted in depression, family stress – especially for the young children, who fear they too will be deported and who won’t stay in a room unless one of their parents is constantly with them – emergency room visits via ambulance, and a range of other afflictions due to a life of constant fear and uncertainty.

While a letter outlining the chronology of this case has been sent to your office, we wish to point out to you that Dima Siam finds herself in limbo because of a simple paperwork error, an honest misinterpretation of one checkbox on her sponsorship form, which was filled out by her husband, Mohammad. When Dima and Mohammad were called in to see an Immigration officer more than 20 MONTHS after it was submitted, they were informed their application could only proceed if they repaid a modest amount of social assistance that the family had received when the application was submitted.

 Despite meeting the Immigration Officer’s requirement of paying back the social assistance, on January 29, 2015, Dima Siam’s sponsorship application was rejected, and she then received a letter with this ominous demand: “You are currently in Canada without status and you must leave immediately.”

Needless to say, they were devastated. How could Canada send anyone back to Syria based on a checkbox error? What’s worse, in February, 2015, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) called Dima Siam in to fill out a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), which the family took great pains to produce and submit. After waiting almost an additional stressful year for a decision (one in which the stress resulted in emergency room hospital visits), they were told the CBSA would NOT review the PRRA application because it was issued to the family in error. When the government makes a mistake that results in an additional year of excruciating limbo and thousands in expenses, the only ones who pay the price are Dima Siam and her family.

Canadian courts and tribunals have long recognized that there will be instances where the strict, inflexible application of the rules in an individual case would be unjust and harsh, and the case of Dima Siam is certainly one of them (see, for example, Hajariwala v M.E.I., [1988] F.C.J. No. 1021, where the Federal Court of Canada recognized “The purpose of the [immigration] statute is to permit immigration, not prevent it.” See also Baker v. MCI [1999] S.C.J. No. 39, at para. 53-74, where the Supreme Court of Canada declared: “immigration officers are expected to make the decision that a reasonable person would make, with special consideration of humanitarian values such as keeping connections between family members and avoiding hardship by sending people to places where they no longer have connections.”)

While we are pleased to welcome 25,000 Syrian refuges to this country, we believe that Canada must also immediately end the limbo faced by Dima Siam and hundreds of other Syrian refugees facing deportation FROM Canada back TO Syria. They should be granted permanent resident status leading to citizenship so they can properly access health care, educational opportunities, and employment.

A positive first step will be the immediate resolution of the Dima Siam case, allowing her and her family to lift the weight of fear and terror that hangs over their heads with Canada’s threat to deport her to Syria based on an honest paperwork error.

We look forward to reading you have granted Dima Siam permanent residency and that your government will consider a similar solution for hundreds of other Syrians facing similar challenges.