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

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