Refugee praised as 'inspirational' by BBC deemed inadmissible to Canada
An activist praised for her “campaigns for independence for Balochistan” from Pakistan has had her asylum hearing suspended by Canadian border-enforcement authorities.
Karima Mehrab was recognized by the BBC for her “campaigns for independence for Balochistan,” a formerly sovereign state that was seized by Pakistan in 1948. (NICHOLAS KEUNG / TORONTO STAR)
Mon., Dec. 26, 2016
A refugee named by the BBC as one of the world’s 100 most “inspirational and influential” women in 2016 has had her asylum claim suspended by Ottawa because of her activism.
Karima Mehrab was recognized by the British Broadcasting Corporation for her “campaigns for independence for Balochistan,” an area that had been under the British rule until 1947 and was later acceded to Pakistan as one of the country’s four provinces.
Ironically, Mehrab’s efforts are also what got the 33-year-old chair of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), one of the groups behind the Balochistan separatist movement, into trouble in Canada.
Mehrab is facing an inadmissibility order by the Canada Border Services Agency because of the group’s involvement in “subversion” against the Pakistani government. Her asylum claim has been put on hold pending the outcome of an inadmissibility hearing by a refugee board tribunal in early 2017.
The Baloch Students Organization is banned by Islamabad but it is not among the terrorist entities listed by the Canadian government. Mehrab was scheduled to go forward with her refugee hearing in late October.
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Mehrab said she joined the organization in 2006 while attending Atta Shad Degree College in Turbat and climbed the ranks to lead the student group after the abduction of its former chair, Zahid Baloch, in 2014. After a year in hiding, she arrived Canada in November 2015.
According Mehrab’s asylum claim, as the Pakistani military cracked down on the movement, her family home was attacked with mortar shells on at least three occasions and one of her cousins was abducted and tortured by officials looking for her.
“I feared for my life and the danger to my life was increasing daily. I am thankful to the Canadian government officials that they helped me and a few of my other colleagues to move to this free country,” Mehrab said in her claim.
In their order, Canadian border officials said Mehrab is inadmissible on security grounds for being a member of an organization that engages, has engaged or will engage in an “act of subversion against a democratic government” as “understood in Canada.”
Canadian border officials would not comment on the inadmissibility order against her, as the matter is still before a tribunal.
Mehrab said her people have been denied the most basic human rights such as access to education, land and natural resources ownership and the rights to practice and preserve their cultural heritage. Some 20,000 Baloch people, mostly youths, have been disappeared by the Pakistani security forces since 2003, she said.
Nadeem Kiani, press minister at Pakistan’s high commission in Ottawa, said Mehrab’s allegations about the military crackdown are unfounded.
“We have a democratic government. We have a free, vibrant press in Pakistan. We have not heard these (accusations) in Pakistan,” Kiani told the Star. “It is unfortunate that these people seek asylum in Canada on the grounds of atrocities. They are just not true. There are no such situations.”
The BBC is simply misguided when naming Mehrab as “inspirational and influential,” he added.
Mehrab, represented by lawyer Max Berger, insists the group leads a peaceful movement and condemns the Pakistani army’s and paramilitary’s suppression and “enforced disappearance” of its members.
“We have never engaged in any violent act, which is against the BSO’s constitution. The allegations that BSO has engaged in violence are not correct,” Mehrab told the Star in an interview.
“I’m surprised I’m facing these accusations by Canada while the Pakistani army itself that has committed all these violent acts is not asked any question.”
Amnesty International has reported on arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, deaths in custody and extrajudicial executions targeting political activists in Balochistan.
“There has been a breakdown of law enforcement in the face of politically motivated attacks particularly throughout the province of Balochistan,” said Human Rights Watch in a recent annual report.
London-based immigration lawyer Elizabeth Ruddick, who has represented refugees from Balochistan, said she has never had such an asylum case refused in the United Kingdom.
“The seriousness of the human rights crisis in Balochistan is such that any Baloch nationalist who gets a fair hearing by someone who takes the country evidence into account is ultimately granted refugee status,” said Ruddick, who has been consulted by Berger.
“In no case of which I am aware have the British authorities ever suggested that the BSO is involved in terrorism or armed struggle.”
Berger said his client has been upfront in her asylum claim about her membership and leadership within the students organization and she plans to vigorously fight Canadian officials’ accusations of her group’s “subversion by force” against Pakistan.