Nearly 200 undocumented immigrants have been on strike in Lindsay prison in Ontario, Canada, since September 17th.
These migrants are kept locked in cages for 18 hours a day, some of them for up to 7 years because Canada cannot deport them but refuses to release them. They are being punished for being arbitrarily deemed a risk, and for the crime of being born elsewhere.
But that’s not even why they are striking. In the last two months, these immigrants were shuffled from other jails in the Toronto area and moved two hours away to the Central East Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Lindsay, Ontario. There they face lockdowns, limited access to telephones and worse food than that served to other inmates. They are being denied family and legal visits.
As a recent article in the Toronto Star explains:
“Basically, they were upset they had no access to anything, their family, legal counsel or any recreational program,” said a source who was informed about the situation.
The detainees, deemed a flight risk while awaiting deportation, have complained about not being able to make phone calls to lawyers and families, frequent lockdowns due to short staff, and disregard of their dietary needs.
“We have had a hard time communicating with our clients,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, who has had about two dozen clients transferred to Lindsay.
“More than 45 per cent of the immigration (files) are in Greater Toronto, and Lindsay is two hours from the city. The whole thing just makes no sense. It is a crazy situation.”
The border service agency did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.
The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed that 191 immigration detainees have been moved to the Lindsay facility, and described Tuesday’s action as “a peaceful protest.”
“A pod at the facility recently underwent renovations and is now complete … it made sense logistically to use the newly renovated pod to house the immigration holds,” ministry spokesperson Greg Flood explained in an email.
However, the move has caused havoc for families, said a Toronto woman whose 28-year-old son was transferred there Aug. 10 from Toronto West, on Disco Rd.
“It takes me an hour and 48 minutes one way to travel to Lindsay to see my son. It costs me so much money in gas. And when I get there, I only get to see him for 10 minutes,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions to her son.
“Before, when my son was in Toronto, he could call me on collect for $1 per call. Now, I’m charged by the minute to talk to him. They have made it so expensive and difficult. They are forcing the inmates into isolation from the outside world.”
The inmates’ relocation has also presented hurdles for lawyers who want to prepare them for legal proceedings, said Mario Bellissimo, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section.
Immigration detainees are entitled to a monthly detention review and video-conferencing is not an ideal substitute for an in-person hearing with lawyers present, he said.
“It is just highly inconvenient … causing more delays and increasing legal costs. This is not good for anyone in the system,” said Bellissimo, who hopes officials can keep Toronto West open till the new Mimico facility is ready to operate. However, officials maintained that families and lawyers continue to have access to inmates.
Showing unbelievable courage and organizing, 191 migrant prisoners launched a strike that entered its 12th day today. They briefly went on hunger strike at the beginning of the strike, a tactic that was resumed on Monday the 23rd, yet their demands have not been met.
In a more recent Toronto Star article, a Lindsay prisoner outlined the situation in the prison:
About 150 detainees resumed a hunger strike Monday, consuming only water and juices, said inmate Eric Kusi. At least four inmates have fallen sick due to low blood sugar and blood pressure, he said.
“We just want to be close to our families for visits and normal treatment from the jail,” Kusi, a native from Liberia, told the Star Tuesday through intermittent phone calls from Lindsay.
“We are getting a lot of lockdowns,” added the 48-year-old man, who has been detained for deportation since January 2012 and was moved to Lindsay on Aug. 19.
“My wife and four daughters used to see me once a week, but they can’t because this is so far and transportation is expensive.”
The detainees have released a list of demands to the media through their lawyers and advocates, pleading for better access to medical care and social workers, cheaper phone services to reach lawyers and families, and an end to constant lockdowns.
The detainees “are demanding the Canada Border Services Agency grant specific requests to move individuals to facilities nearer to their families, legal resources and social services” in the city, said Toronto immigration consultant Mac Scott, who was asked to distribute the list by the inmates.
Border officials said they are aware of their concerns and are working closely with the province to address them.
“A member of CBSA staff is stationed at the Central East Detention Centre Monday through Friday to address detainee immigration issues,” said CBSA spokesperson Anna Pape.
“Detainees also have access to a toll-free line in order to contact CBSA, the Red Cross, who assist them with legal services, and their family or legal counsel.”
Emelina Ramos of Fuerza/Puwersa, a migrant advocacy group based in Guelph, said Central East officials have agreed to let detainees access the same canteen as the rest of the prison population after last week’s protest.
Her group has launched an online petition asking Neil Neville, superintendent of the Lindsay facility, to meet the detainees’ needs. The campaign has collected more than 100 names so far.
Kusi said many detainees, including him, are being held indefinitely because no other country will provide them with travel documents.
“Detainees who do not have a criminal history should be detained in (regular) immigration holding centre while waiting for due process,” said Kusi, who was granted permanent residency status in 1990, but lost it after a fraud conviction and one-year jail term in 2011.
“Those who have been jailed indefinitely with no hope of getting travel documents should be released under supervision.”
According to the CBSA, close to 10,000 people were placed in immigration detention in 2011-2012 — about two-thirds in provincial jails and the rest in its own detention facilities. Each detained case costs an average $3,185.
You can also also hear Erik Kusi speaking about the situation at https://soundcloud.com/moominamur/interview-with-erik-kusi
There is a call out for people on the outside to call the prison and voice your support for the strikers.
(Remember you can make anonymous calls from your computer: http://abt.cm/1bHfcK5 – See below for what to say)
Madeline Meilleur, Minister in-charge of provincial jails: @m_meilleur
Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety immigration enforcement: @MinStevenBlaney
#MigrantStrike #CdnImm #OnPoli
SIGN THE PETITION & EMAIL
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WHAT TO SAY
- Better access to medical care and social workers
- Cheaper phone calls and access to international calling cards (many have family overseas)
- Access to better food, like the food on the non-immigration ranges
- An end to constant lockdowns
- Keep the improved canteen program going
- Better access to legal aid and legal services
- Granting of specific requests to move individuals to facilities nearer to their families, legal resources, and social services.
Be sure to also express your opposition to and desire to see an end to all detentions and deportations.
In spite of some of the most dehumanizing and isolating conditions imposed on them, these migrants have chosen to resist rather than be beaten. It is now our job to answer their call.
If you are a past immigration detainee or a family member or friend of a migrant in detention, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
More information and frequent updates: http://endimmigrationdetention.wordpress.com