Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Using false identification as a refugee 

Canada takes great pride in its record of accepting refugees. Recently, Canada accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. 

Gift Daniel, age 32 is a female refugee from Northern Nigeria. She claimed that she was forced to undergo female circumcision in 2012 and was sold by her father a year later to an older man who sexually, physically and psychologically abused her. What happened to her seems to be a regular practice in that part of the world.

She fled Nigeria with the help of a smuggler. The refugee board confirmed there was documented evidence of genital mutilation and the Immigration officials did not challenge Daniel’s claim that she was a victim of the aforementioned abuse which would be sufficient evidence that she was a genuine refugee fleeing her homeland and in need of protection in a country like Canada.

She flew to Canada in February 2015 using a false Canadian passport under the name of Desiree Dobson.  She was also in possession of a Social Insurance Number card, birth certificate and driver’s licence under the same name.

She immediately filed a refugee asylum claim upon landing at Pearson International Airport and then she declared her real identity to officials as “Gift Daniel” and provided a birth document and driver’s licence issued by the Nigerian government as proof.

However, there was a problem that appeared to be a tough hurdle for her to get over. Her apparent lack of credibility as to who she really was had stopped her right at the base of the hurdle. It appeared that she was not who she claimed to be. That is definitely a hurdle that is difficult to get over.

A border enforcement official quickly noticed that her birth document spelled her name as “Gife” while her driver licences (old and current) spelled it “Gift” thereby setting off suspicions by Canadian officials over her real identity.

While Daniel had insisted she only became aware of the typo after it was spotted by the border official, the different spellings of her name in her identity documents triggered the government’s suspicions as to her real identity. 

A typo can be devastating, especially when it’s in the name on the ID of a refugee claimant. And to increase their suspicions, the Immigration people were by then aware that she came to Canada with a passport and documents that were not hers.

I can understand why she got a fake passport. She may not have been able to get one under own name.

The problem she was facing involved a simple typo with respect to her first name. Her real first name is GIFT.  Upon her arrival in Canada, she declared her real identity to officials as “Gift Daniel” and provided a birth document and driver’s licence issued by the Nigerian government as proof that GIFT was her real first name.

Border enforcement officials also noted that Daniel could not provide them with details on who helped her obtain the false passport she used to come to Canada and subsequently her claim was “assessed on the basis of her alleged identity. First of all, it is highly unlikely that she would know the real name of her smuggle since they are so secretive. 

Immigration officials noted that her driver’s licences (two had expired and one was current) bore different signatures and that one expired licence has a picture that didn’t look like her. The identity problem was further compounded by a new birth certificate Daniel later submitted with the correct spelling of her first name—it being GIFT.

Identity is clearly an important fact to consider when determining whether or not a refugee claiming asylum is legitimate. It is so important, that if not established, there is no need to further analyze the evidence and the claim for refugee status must fail. Absent a properly established identity, a matter of utmost importance to refugee determination, the claimant cannot be considered to be a credible witness on the material aspects of her claim for refugee protection.

Having failed to convince the border enforcement officials, she was then detained at the Rexdale Immigration Holding Centre. She filed an appeal without the assistance of a lawyer. It was turned down as it wasn’t properly prepared. Then she acquired the assistance of a lawyer and the appeal documents were accepted.

In her appeal application, border enforcement officials argued that Daniel could not provide them with details on who helped her obtain the false passport she used to come to Canada and argued that her claim was “assessed only on the basis of one facet of the her supposed alleged identity and her statement that she was survivor of forced female genital mutilation and gendered violence.

The latter statement is a valid one for acceptance as a refugee but if the real  identity of an applicant can’t be established, the applicant can’t be accepted into Canada. One man claiming refugee status spent eight years in a correctional institution before his identity was finally established. He was then sent back to the country of his birth.

In addition to the error in her name on her birth document, they said her other ID, including two additional driver’s licences she later produced and a voter’s card, were not acceptable proof of identity.

The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) rejected Daniel’s explanation that a friend forged her signature on her first driver’s licence because she forgot to sign it on her application. Daniel’s explanation certainly wouldn’t pass any smell test even if the judge’s nostrils were plugged. 

Adjudicator Leonard Favreau wrote in his decision, “The RAD finds that the forged document was obtained improperly outside of the normal issuing process and cannot be relied upon for the truth of its content. Regardless, even if the respondent’s friend was able to bypass the process required to obtain a driver’s licence, it is clear that the licence cannot be relied upon for the truth of its content, and as such, cannot be relied upon as reliable evidence of the respondent’s identity. In traveling to Canada in possession of a false passport and other false identity documents, the respondent has demonstrated that she has the ability to obtain and the willingness to use fraudulent documents.”

The Appeal Tribunal also noted the features on one of the licences “were faded with muted colours” and its “webbing” security features were barely visible.

Fraudulent documents from Nigeria are available in and outside of Nigeria. Any printed document can be forged. Genuine official documents such as birth, marriage, divorce, death certificates, ID cards, driving licences and passports can be obtained but they have to be in someone else’s name.  

Favreau rescinded Daniel’s asylum application. The decision was appealed and ended in a federal court.

In challenging the appeal tribunal’s decision against Daniel, Daniel’s representative, Richard Wazana argued at the federal court that the assessment of his client’s identity was unreasonable and the adjudicator could not make a decision solely on identity without considering the credibility of her claims for asylum. Wazana’s arguments were dismissed by Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald.

McDonald said in her ruling, “The RAD was not unreasonable in rejecting Daniel’s evidence and explanations for the irregular manner in which she obtained the licences. Therefore, the RAD was not wrong in concluding that the applicant’s identity had not been established,”

Daniel, who has been studying at an adult learning centre toward a high school diploma, said she was disappointed with the decision and frustrated at what more she could do to prove she is Gift Daniel.

In this rare appeal case, Ottawa has overturned a decision to grant refugee status to a Nigerian woman, in part because of a misspelling of her name in a government birth document from Lagos.

Despite concerns over Daniel’s identity, refugee judge Shamshuddin Alidina, in granting her asylum, wrote the tribunal “believes, on a balance of probability, that the claimant has persuasively established her identity as Gift Daniel from Nigeria.”

 “I was so happy when my refugee claim was originally granted. I was ready to move on and start a new life,” said Daniel, sobbing. “It all started with the typo. Tell me if you never make any error in life, in typing and speaking. This is a huge price for me to pay.”

I am not aware of any prior positive decisions being overturned completely by the refugee appeal division, where the pressing concern was on the identity and not on the merits of the decision,” especially when they did not question the forced marriage, abuse and violence.

However, in my opinion, that final ruling was just. Nevertheless, I have some concerns about suspicious ID being presented by refugees trying to get into Canada as refugees. If permitted, it is then possible that thousands of refugees would be permitted to enter Canada on a permanent basis with phony Identification. The use of legitimate identification by refugees must be strictly enforced. 

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