Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Support the Return to Canada of Two Canadian Citizen Children and their Libyan Refugee Parents and Siblings Who Were Deported in 2008 and Whose Father

The Benhmuda family fled to Canada from Libya in July 2000 to seek safety from the Gaddafi regime. They built a life here, worked hard and went to school and contributed to the community. Two more children were born to the family, Omar and Adam. However, after 8 years here they were ordered to return and, despite the risk of persecution and torture under the Gaddafi regime, were sent back to Libya in 2008. The three years that have followed have been an intensely difficult journey of jail and torture for the father, as well as hellish living conditions in Tripoli and in a Maltese refugee camp for the whole family.

In February, 2011, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) produced a detailed report that called on Canada to resettle the Benhmuda family in the country they call their own: Canada. UNHCR said they are at risk in Libya and do not have adequate security and integration prospects in Malta.

Since that time, no action has been taken by the Canadian government to bring the Benhmuda family home.

The Benhmuda family need your support to come home to Canada. More detailed information on their case is below, including a link to an interview with the family on CBC’s The Current, along with suggestions on what you can do to help, including letter writing, financial support, and more.


“If we receive an application from that family I can assure the House that it will be given every humanitarian consideration, and indeed dealt with on an accelerated basis." Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, June 23, 2011, House of Commons, in response to a question about whether he will take immediate steps to resettle the Benhmuda family in Canada.

Minister Kenney needs to hear from the voices of people across the country who will encourage him to do the right thing and return this family to Canada.

We are calling on the Canadian government to immediately bring the family to Canada, where they have well-developed roots, and so the children can resume their schooling without further disruption to their already traumatized lives.


Adel Benhmuda and his family – his wife, Aisha Benmatung, and their two children Mohamed and Moawiya – fled Libya in July, 2000, after it was clear that the family would continue to be the target of persecution by the Gaddafi regime. Their refugee claim was denied in Canada, but this was not a reflection of the strength of their case or the real fear they felt, as many completely legitimate claims are rejected because of systemic bias and faulty reasoning.

The family approached a lawyer for assistance, but the proper papers were never filed by that lawyer, triggering the process that led to their eventual forced removal from Canada. Even though Mr. Benhmuda had documentation showing that Libyan authorities were still looking for him, this information failed to sway a Canadian immigration officer considering the risk posed to Mr. Benhmuda if deported to Libya.


Although the family had lived in Canada for 8 years, and had two Canadian-born children, Omar and Adam, they were uprooted from a Canadian life to which they had adapted well. The kids loved their schools, their father was considered one of Discount Optical’s best employees, and their mother was actively involved in the community. The Kindergarten teacher of the two youngest boys wrote that the family “proved themselves to be contributing, law-abiding, moral, integral members of our society. Their bills were paid, they established stable employment and housing, and they were raising four boys with good solid values.”

Despite fears that he would be tortured if deported, Adel and his family were put on a plane in Toronto. Their request that the family be returned in as normal a manner as possible (to avoid raising suspicion on the part of Libyan authorities) was ignored, and their passports were handed over to the plane’s crew, who handed them directly to Libyan authorities upon landing in Tripoli, a red flag that led to Adel being jailed and tortured for the next four months, with Aisha unable to determine his whereabouts.

Adel was beaten on the soles of his feet and also suspended from the ceiling upside down as he was subjected to intense interrogation and beatings. He was asked why the family had not been carrying their own passports and why they had filed an asylum claim in Canada. He never received a doctor or family visit.

Adel was eventually released, but life did not improve for the family. The children were unable to attend public school (the family believes this was part of the ongoing persecution)


In May, 2009, the family was again attacked by police who came to arrest Adel, with his two eldest sons beaten and Aisha violently thrown to the ground and arrested. He suffered another two months of beatings and mistreatment in jail. He was released but shortly thereafter, following a tip from a relative that he faced yet another arrest, Adel and his family managed to flee the country, first to Sweden where they requested refugee protection and then to Malta, where their refugee claim was accepted.

Their living conditions in Malta, however, were sub-human. Forced to sleep in storage containers with only mattresses in the overcrowded refugee camps, they saw rats as big as cats, and were afraid to go out to the washroom at night because of the horrendous cockroach infestation in the camp.

Efforts by Canadian lawyer Andrew Brouwer to get the family returned to Canada have been stonewalled by bureaucrats, with one official writing in an email that he does not see that Canada has any obligation to this family of Canadian children and refugees that it deported to torture.

“In Canada, they talk about human rights and freedom and how you can’t hit your kids – all those things,” says Aisha in a Toronto Star interview. “But they do not care if they break your dreams and your hopes. These are things that will not get fixed.” (See an excellent article on the case at http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1010236--deported-to-torture )

Listen to the family’s voices on CBC’s The Current at this link:



The family cannot go back to Libya, as they would be detained, tortured or killed there. While they currently have temporary protection in Malta, Malta does not have the resources or policy framework to properly integrate the large refugee population on the island (one that continually grows given the unrest in northern Africa). Racism, fear and mistrust of refugees in Malta make it very difficult for refugees to find work and access social services, including education.

The UNHCR supports strategic refugee resettlement from Malta, and has agreements with the European Union and the U.S. to resettle refugees.

Given that two of the Benhmuda children are Canadian, and the whole family has lived and thrived here for the better part of a decade, the UNHCR believes it makes the most sense, given other humanitarian considerations, for the family to be resettled in Canada.

Although they are now living in Malta, the Benhmuda family’s situation remains precarious at best. Malta is very close to Libya both economically and diplomatically, and the Libyan embassy is eager to hear about and question Libyan refugees on the island. The embassy there remains loyal to Gaddafi, and Libyans on such a small island cannot go unnoticed.


The whole family speaks English and, for the younger children, Canada was the only home they’d ever known. For the older boys, it was the only home they could remember. One son with muscular dystrophy is unable in Malta to access the specialized support he received in Canada at Sick Kids Hospital, and another suffers from asthma.


We are calling on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to act in accordance with the February, 2011 recommendation of the UNHCR to resettle the Benhmuda family in Canada this summer.

Write a letter to Jason Kenney (jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca), and cc NDP immigration critic Don Davies (don.davies@parl.gc.ca), Liberal critic Kevin Lamoureux (kevin.lamoureux@parl.gc.ca) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (stephen.harper@parl.gc.ca) You can also blind copy tasc@web.ca.

In the subject line, please write “I support bringing the Benhmuda family home to Canada”


Telephone: (613) 992-2235 Fax: (613) 992-1920


While many refugee advocates have major difficulties with the current government’s refugee policies in general, PLEASE do not turn this letter into an attack on Minister Kenney, as that would only hurt the Benhmuda family. The tone of your letter should be polite and stick to the key facts, and include the following:

Who you are, and why you are writing this letter—perhaps mention reading the Toronto Star article or the CBC interview and your feelings about this.

Thanking Mr. Kenney for promising to look into this case and deal with it on an accelerated basis on humanitarian grounds.

Letting Mr. Kenney know that you support the humanitarian move of bringing the Benhmuda family back to Canada.

Remind Mr. Kenney that no less an authority than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended bringing the Benhmuda family back to Canada

Thank Mr. Kenney for reading your letter, and ask that his office move quickly to bring the family back as soon as possible so they can find a place to live, pick up where they left off, and the kids can prepare for school this fall.

Leave your name and address


Writer letters to the editor supporting the right of the Benhmuda family to come home, email this alert to your lists, and share this information with your facebook friends

The Benhmuda family faces significant expenses, both legal and for the cost of resettling. Toronto Action for Social Change has set up a special fund for both purposes, and is collecting donations. You can send cheques to TASC at PO Box 2020, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0. Put Benhmuda in the memo portion of the cheque.

See more at http://www.wix.com/spotsgang/deported-to-torture#!

Toronto Action for Social Change advocates for the rights of refugees, has a long history of nonviolent action in support of individuals unfairly targeted by governments, and promotes campaigns and actions that transform situations of institutional and individual injustice. More info at tasc@web.ca or http://homesnotbombs.blogspot.com/

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