Seeking Refuge


The following is the personal experience of Karla Lottini, a Mexican refugee and journalist who came to Canada as a refugee. Contrary to popular belief that “Canada accepts so many refugees,” it was an incredibly hard process for her to become a refugee in Canada.

The Canadian government considers Mexico, its North American Free Trade Agreement partner, a safe country for refugees. But then what about the case of refugee claimant Lucia Vega Jimenez, who was so afraid of being deported back to Mexico that she committed suicide in a migrant detention center in December 2013? Or Mexican asylum seeker Veronica Castro who was beaten to death after Canadian authorities deported her back to Mexico in 2012?

More recently, since the 2012 Refugee Exclusion Act, Mexico and forty other countries have been placed on the “Designated Countries of Origin” list. Refugee claimants from these countries face a different legal system: they have fewer rights and the timelines for their claims are shorter. This enables Canada to fast-track deportations to these countries. The most glaring hypocrisy of the Canadian government is that it frequently advises its own citizens not to travel to parts of Mexico, but believes that Mexicans fleeing persecution and violence can safely be deported!

By Karla Lottini (originally published in Undoing Border Imperialism)

Fear, silence, distrust, isolation, mental distress, poverty, debts, helplessness, sleepless nights, and self-doubt—these are the characteristics of being a refugee in Canada. I am a Mexican writer and journalist, but I could be a Palestinian refugee running from violence and occupation, or a Latin American migrant farmworker who has had to leave her motherland because of starvation-level poverty. My husband and I came in 2008 to Vancouver as refugees after I uncovered corruption in the federal cultural institution in Mexico. I fled harassment, intimidation, and death threats.

When I arrived, as is the situation for many refugee claimants, I looked for support through agencies. My husband and I had to wait a long time to get a temporary work permit; it was even harder trying to find a job. We were struggling to adapt to Canadian society, and spent our time volunteering while juggling bureaucratic requirements for immigration and preparing our case. We hired a lawyer who said my evidence was strong enough to meet the strict test in Canada and that I would get protection. But soon I realized how difficult it was; I think I can better describe it as torment.

After almost two years, while I was six-months pregnant, we faced our hearing at the Refugee Protection Division in front of a female judge and a tribunal officer. I will never forget the scene: the so-called honourable judge was yawning and drinking coffee, and the tribunal officer was sarcastically questioning our credibility and doubting the validity of our fears. The tribunal officer kept trying to paint Mexico as a “safe place” where President Felipe Calderon provides “safety to his citizens.” To these immigration officials, Mexico is just what they see on a tourist leaflet with beautiful beaches and delicious food. Our lawyer could not even finish presenting our case because the judge asked him to send the arguments via mail!

We received a negative decision on our refugee claim in June 2010. We jumped through a few more bureaucratic hoops, and then we decided to make our situation public in 2011. At the time, I was pregnant with my second daughter and had just published my book El talento de los farsantes (The talent of charlatans). I solicited the help of friends and organizations in the Latin American community, such as Latino Soy and Vancouver South Cultural Project. I also read about an organization called No One Is Illegal that was helping immigrants and refugees. The course of our struggle changed when my family and I were supported by them. With their help, we organized a public support campaign and press conference. It was then and there that we finally defeated the internalized fear to talk about our life and pending deportation.

We captured media attention and the attention of immigration authorities, and almost two months later we were accepted to remain on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds. We are the lucky ones, but we could have been one of the tens of thousands of families deported each year by the Canada Border Services Agency.

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