Edmonton and Halifax advocates fight to save Somali refugee from deportation


Abdilahi Elmi is set to be deported on Aug. 21 but supporters say government failed to secure citizenship



Supporters say the Ontario government failed in its duty to apply for citizenship for Abdilahi Elmi, who spent time in foster care.

Advocates hope the federal government will reconsider deporting a Somali refugee in Edmonton based on the precedent of a high-profile case in Nova Scotia.

Supporters say Abdilahi Elmi, 34, is scheduled for deportation on Aug. 21 to Somalia — a country he fled as a child, where he doesn’t know the language or culture or has no family connections.

Elmi, who is in custody at the remand centre, has a lengthy criminal record that includes various assault charges. A criminal sentence of more than six months makes non-citizens eligible for deportation.

But advocates say federal authorities should review the exceptional circumstances that caused Elmi to fall through the cracks, including his time in foster care.

They say the Ontario government failed in its duty to secure permanent residency and citizenship for Elmi, who has remained a refugee for 24 years.

Backers say Elmi’s circumstances are reminiscent of the case of Abdoul Abdi. Last year, the federal government abandoned efforts to deport Abdi after a Federal Court judge set aside the decision to send him to a deportation hearing. The judge ruled that authorities had not considered the unique facts of Abdi’s case — including the fact that he had been a long-term ward of the state.
Activists say Abdilahi Elmi’s case is similar to that of Abdoul Abdi, who received a last-minute reprieve from deportation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Abdi’s sister is among those in Halifax who have joined in the fight to save Elmi from what they describe as a “death sentence.”

Supporters have launched a petition that has drawn hundreds of signatures in support.

“What shocks me about that is there was nothing that was taken into consideration in regards to this young man coming to Canada, being raised in foster homes, not even knowing that he needs status,” said Dunia Nur, president of the Edmonton-based African Canadian Civic Engagement Council.

“That’s not a child’s responsibility.”

Elmi, who suffers from PTSD and pre-migration trauma, had no parental support, community support or government support, Nur said in an interview with Edmonton AM.

‘I want to be a better person’

The petition, which includes a letter from Elmi, shares his story in detail.

At five, he fled war in Somalia, living in a refugee camp with his grandmother, where he can still recall seeing dead bodies.

Five years later he arrived in Toronto as a refugee and was reunited with his mother. Ontario Child welfare apprehended Elmi when he was 13 and sent him to a foster home.

By 16, he was living on the streets, where he became addicted to alcohol, dropped out and started getting in trouble with the law. His attempt to apply for permanent residency on his own at 19 was rejected eight years later, advocates say.

Court documents show a lengthy list of convictions for crimes that include assault with a weapon, assault of a peace officer and uttering threats.

In the petition, Elmi acknowledged his criminal past.

“Alcohol has clouded my thinking and my future has been just living day to day in a cell, year after year,” wrote Elmi. “This is not life at all. I want to be a better person.

“I know that I have made a lot of mistakes in my life that I can’t take back, and I am not a bad person. I am a kind, helpful, and loving person.”

Nur said her organization has helped Elmi reunite with his mother and brother, who live in Toronto. They have also found him an immigration lawyer to challenge his deportation in court.

She said Elmi does volunteer work and has undergone addictions treatment.

On June 26, 2019, the Canadian Border Services Agency deemed Elmi a danger to the public, clearing the way for his removal.

His final destination is Kismayo, Somalia, his mother’s hometown, where Somali-Canada journalist Hodan Nalayeh was among 26 people killed in a bombing last month.

“We just see the failure for these children that we take them in, and then when they have trauma and when they have problems they end up in the child-welfare system and they’re traumatized and abused,” said El Jones, a prisoners’ rights advocate who worked on Abdi’s case.

“Instead of helping them, we criminalize them. And then once they’re criminalized, they do their time in prison. Then we say, well, get out of the country, go back. He doesn’t speak Somali, he doesn’t know the culture and he considers it a death sentence.”

In an email, the CBSA said the removal of convicted, repeat offenders is an enforcement priority.

“He has committed extensive crimes within Canada and is considered a danger to the public,” wrote spokesperson Mylene Estrada-Del Rosario.

CBC has requested comment from the Ontario government.



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