Kaif Ali is only 23, but she has spent the past five years rebuilding her life – starting with escaping war in Somalia, trusting a smuggler to find safety, landing in Canada and learning English, study nursing and become a frontline healthcare worker.
Now, the life she has built could soon come crashing down – again.
This is because the Canadian government is now claiming that Ali is not, in fact, Somali. And she is not alone.
Ali, a Toronto resident, told CBC News she fled Somalia with her younger sister after her father and older sister were targeted and killed. The two men paid off a smuggler, who arranged for them to flee with fake Kenyan passports. It’s a choice she says she was forced to make to get to safety.
“No one wakes up one day and says, ‘Oh, I’m running away from the country,'” Ali said. “We escape in a short time. Something happens, and in a month or two you go into hiding.”
“You don’t have that free time to be able to prepare for that ID document…I would have lost my life and my sister’s if I had stayed there any longer,” she said. declared. “We had to escape.”
Now Ali is among a growing number of Somalis who advocates have had their asylum claims invalidated by the federal government because of these fraudulent documents.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says 157 people have benefited from “cancellation hearings” since 2019 – a decision to revoke their protection as Somali asylum seekers. Ali and others believe the real number is in the hundreds.
From 2015 to 2019, the number of cancellation notices against Somali asylum seekers averaged 19 each year. In 2020, they were 61. A year later, they were 77.
Canada says Ali is Kenyan, so her asylum claim is bogus and could be deported unless she successfully appeals. Ali says she and many others over the years openly told immigration officials upon arrival that their documents were fake.
His last hope to stay here rests on an appeal on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“If I go back to Somalia, I will die.”
Peak in cases
In 1991, the Somali government collapsed with the outbreak of civil war and it has since been widely considered a failed state. Canada is one of many countries that do not consider Somali passports valid “for travel to Canada”. The same is true for the UK and Germany, which means those trying to find safety are often forced to forge their documents. Many of those who have escaped war over the past three decades haven’t even had birth certificates, Ali says.
How can a person travel when their government has completely collapsed?— Paul Dineen, Immigration Lawyer
For many this means that, as difficult as it was to survive the war, escaping it can be even more difficult.
Toronto immigration attorney Paul Dineen has handled dozens of cases similar to Ali’s. In the three decades that he practiced refugee law, he had seen only two or three “cleared” cases.
Suddenly, at the end of 2019, he says, there was a “rash” of it.
Until then, Dineen says, there seemed to be an acknowledgment that refugees from Somalia had to rely on fraudulent documents.
“You could point fingers and say, ‘Well, they used a fake document. That’s wrong,'” Dineen said. “But how can a person travel when their government has completely collapsed and they are trying to find refuge somewhere?”
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada recognizes in its refugee claim that some will come with false documents. Its application form asks applicants to include “documents you obtained improperly or illegally or by giving information that is not true, and documents you used that do not really belong to you.”
The CBSA will not disclose investigative techniques
Dineen suspects the apparent spike in cases is the result of the CBSA’s use of artificial intelligence tools to match photos of those arriving at Canadian airports to photos of a given asylum claim. When the claimants’ photos are deemed to match those of real Kenyans, their claims appear to be invalidated.
Earlier CBC News reporting revealed that primary inspection kiosks that read passports at some Canadian airports may have higher error rates when processing people of certain ethnicities.
Dineen worries that photo matching is a flawed process, pointing out that numerous studies have noted that facial recognition algorithms may be less accurate when dealing with dark-skinned people than light-skinned people. .
Asked about the apparent spike in evacuation cases, the CBSA said in a statement to CBC News that it “cannot speculate or speak to trends.”
The agency said it uses facial recognition technology to help identify travelers passing through its kiosks at select airports and is “committed to ensuring that the privacy of individuals is protected and that the technology is free from prejudice”.
He also said he takes “extensive steps” to intercept those using fraudulent documents, but “does not disclose details of his intelligence and investigative techniques.”
“They went through the unthinkable”
Marian Mohamud fled Somalia in the late 1980s and says she was welcomed to Canada with open arms.
It’s that kind of welcome — and Canada’s response to thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion — that the Somali mother she wants for those now at risk of deportation.
Many have built their lives here, work in essential sectors, even started a family. Others, fearing the danger of returning home, she said, attempted suicide.
“You need these people. They are already here, they have gone through the unthinkable to come here. How can you return them? Mohammad said. “Treat our children the same way you treat Ukrainians.”
Qalid Ali knows this feeling all too well.
After coming to Canada six years ago, attending high school and college there, he too now faces the possibility of deportation.
With the prospect of being forced back into danger, he says, many young Somalis in his position feel defeated.
“They don’t know when they are going to be expelled… And because of this mindset, many of them have dropped out of school,” he said. “When you can’t envision a future, then it’s very difficult to work for it.”
“We want to be Canadians…we want to be able to enjoy the same peace and security that all Canadians enjoy in this country,” Qalid said.
“All we want is to be enough.”