As the United States has stepped up deportations of Somalis with criminal records, some have crossed illegally into Canada and made refugee claims under false identities, according to an intelligence report obtained by Global News.
The fear of deportation by U.S. immigration authorities appears to have driven some Somalis with criminal histories to travel north and illicitly cross the border to claim asylum, said the Canada Border Services Agency Intelligence Brief.
While those with serious criminal pasts represent only a small fraction of Somali refugee claimants, the report said the U.S. removal policy was “posing an increased security risk as some of these individuals are fleeing to Canada.”
“Somali nationals with criminal records in the U.S. may be attempting to evade justice by claiming refugee protection in Canada,” said the report, distributed by the CBSA’s Intelligence Operations and Analysis Division.
The report said 16 Somalis with “serious” criminal pasts were known to have arrived in Canada from the U.S. between 2012 and 2015. Six had records in the U.S. for sexual offences — three involving minors as victims. Eleven with records in Minnesota had illegally crossed the border in the same area near Emerson, Manitoba. They were among 164 Somalis flagged by the CBSA for serious crime and national security concerns during that period.
A border sign near Emerson, Manitoba.
But Abdi Ahmed, director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, said he had not seen any evidence it was happening, and since refugee claimants were fingerprinted, their criminal pasts would be known.
“There’s nothing like this,” said Ahmed, a Somali refugee. “This is completely unfounded.”
Recently released under the Access to Information Act, the intelligence report was dated Jan. 2016, when U.S. deportations of failed Somali asylum seekers and permanent residents with criminal records were on the rise.
The U.S. deported 65 Somalis in 2014, 120 in 2015 and 198 in 2016, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics. They have increased further under President Donald Trump.
The increasing deportations of Somalis from the U.S. “may be a contributing factor for individuals with criminal records to enter into Canada illegally,” said the report, titled “Somali Nationals in Canada with Serious Inadmissibility Concerns.”
Unlike the U.S., Canada has imposed a temporary ban on deportations to parts of Somalia, notably Mogadishu, where Islamist militants have been staging attacks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has assured Canadians his government can handle the current surge in illegal border crossings, most recently in Quebec, where more than 100 asylum seekers are crossing from the U.S. each day.
“Entering Canada is not a free-for-all,” said Jacqueline Roby, a CBSA spokesperson. Those caught crossing the border between points of entry are arrested, and when they make refugee claims they are interviewed and subjected to security and criminal record checks, she said.
The intelligence report said the U.S. began deporting Somalis in “increased numbers” in 2012. In June of that year, court records show, CBSA officers found a man walking along a southern Manitoba highway. He said his name was Abdulqadir Magan and that he had been in the U.S. for two months and wanted to make a refugee claim.
But a check of his fingerprints identified him as Saiad Abdi, a longtime U.S. permanent resident with what a judge called “a lengthy criminal record,” including a conviction for improper handling of a weapon. He was deported back to the U.S.
David Matas, the Winnipeg refugee and human rights lawyer who represented him in the Federal Court, said Somalis were crossing into Canada because of U.S. removal policies and rising intolerance under Trump.
“I think the advent of the Trump presidency has created an atmosphere of fear within this population,” Matas said, adding that walking over the border was the only option for many because of a law that would see them turned back were they to go to an official border post.
Early Sunday morning, February 26, 2016, a migrant from Somalia is arrested and detained by RCMP after crossing into Canada illegally from the United States by walking down a train track into the town of Emerson, where the migrant will seek asylum at Canada Border Services Agency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
“In any population, you’re going to have a criminal element and I suppose there’s a component of this population like any other. But it doesn’t represent the movement as such and I don’t think it’s because Canada is softer on criminality than the U.S.,” he said.
He said Canadian border officers were doing a good job overall and that the CBSA intelligence report could be their headquarters “telling them, in your general attempt to be helpful, try to keep an eye out for some of these.”
The report also raised concerns about the “growing trend” of sex trafficking by Somali gangs in the U.S., warning that, “since many of the concerns in the U.S. Somali community mirror the concerns in the Canadian-Somali community, there is potential that this trend may spill over into Canada.”