Sunday, May 6, 2007

Protesters march for refugees, migrants

Many demonstrators wear masks in show of solidarity with illegal, non-status immigrants

CHERYL CORNACCHIA, The Gazette; CP contributed to this report

Several hundred Montreal protesters marched along Jean Talon St. yesterday in support of migrants and refugees.

Demonstrators march along Jean Talon Blvd. yesterday in support of migrants and refugees. Similar demos were held in Toronto and the U.S. Demonstrators march along Jean Talon Blvd. yesterday in support of migrants and refugees. Similar demos were held in Toronto and the U.S.

Similar events were held in Toronto and the United States.

Many of the participants in the peaceful march wore masks in a show of solidarity with illegal and non-status immigrants "hiding" in Montreal.

"These people are obliged to hide their identities every day," said Jaggi Singh, a Montreal social justice activist. "They are afraid of being picked up and deported."

Tatiana Gomez, a spokesperson for the Solidarity Across Borders, said there are an estimated 500,000 undocumented people in Canada, of which at least 40,000 live in Montreal.

The event was organized by the Montreal network of grassroots organizations working in support of migrants and refugees.

"Status for All" was the theme of the event and the message on placards carried by the demonstrators as they made their way through the ethnically diverse neighbourhood .

Among the marchers was Ramani Belendra, who immigrated from Sri Lanka 22 years ago and now works at Montreal's South Asian Women's Community Centre, helping immigrant women from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

There are more than 300 women from these countries living in Montreal and waiting to be granted status as landed immigrants, Belendra said.

Without status, she said, they are vulnerable, often exploited in the workplace, working in restaurants, hotels, factories, warehouses and as domestics.

Christiane Sibillotte, a well- dressed 91-year-old woman, was the oldest protester at yesterday's event.

She said she was walking with her cane in support of Abdelkader Belaouni, a blind Algerian man who came to Canada in 2003.

Belaouni sought sanctuary in the presbytery of St. Gabriel's church in Point St. Charles in January 2006.

He has been refused status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Yesterday marked his 490th day in the church sanctuary.

"There's no reason he should be refused (landed-immigrant) status," Sibillotte said.

A young Sikh mother, Rajvinder Kaur, said she came out in support of a man from her community who was deported to Punjab a few months ago.

His family has been separated and no one knows why, Kaur said as she cradled her nine-week old baby girl, Uqaal Kaur, the youngest person at yesterday's demonstration.

"They said he was a threat to national security, but provided no evidence," said Santbir Singh, Kaur's husband. "Everyone should be allowed due process."

The event ended with a picnic and festival at Athena Park in the heart of Park Extension.

In Toronto, more than 100 people turned out to support a family facing deportation to their native Mexico next month.

Angelica Gallegos Perez said she left Mexico after getting into trouble with the police.

Her family was forced to come to Canada as refugees because of the lack of state protection in Mexico.

In the two years they have been here, Perez feels her family represents the hardworking immigrants Canada claims to be looking for.

Her husband has been working as a grocery store clerk, and she has been working as a cleaning lady.

"My husband is hard working, and I am too," she said, as tears streamed down her face.

"My kids go to school here and our lives are here. I would even bear the winters here to stay."

The family has spent its life savings for legal resources and application fees, and now lacks the funds needed to apply for asylum on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Perez said she believes that going back to Mexico will put the lives of her children in danger.

"I am afraid that if we go back, something will happen to my son and daughter."