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A Tale of Protection: Loly Rico and Francisco Rico-Martinez

A vital journey that would be made impossible by Bill C-31


knew we had to leave... our home and our family were no longer safe. At that time the Canadian government had a Source Country List, meaning that they could identify people at risk and issue them a Minister Permit. Francisco went to a hotel and met a Canadian Immigration officer who realized his risk and immediately offered him a Minister Permit. He left that evening. The Minister Permit disappeared with the Immigration and Protection Act in 2002, and the Source Country List was removed last year in an announcement by the current Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Canada. Today refugees facing the same risk as Francisco and his family would be severely limited in their options. Without the source country program, we would have had to escape to a bordering country and lived in hiding, doing whatever we could to survive. After living in Canada for less than a year, Francisco needed to return to El Salvador to support his colleagues who were putting their lives at risk by launching his book. I explained the situation to Immigration Canada, telling them that I had to support my colleagues I couldnt stand by while they put their lives on the line. Francisco and Loly commended the governments response at the time. They were concerned about [Franciscos] life more than anything. They told him not to go back because if he were detained there was nothing they would be able to do. Fuelled by his passion, Francisco returned to El Salvador for three days staying in hiding and putting his life in real danger. I understood the risk involved, but as it was such a short time I felt I could remain under the radar of any threat. It would have been very

hen Loly Rico and Francisco Rico-Martinez arrived in Canada 22 years ago the attitude toward refugees was very different. There was a level of reception and compassion among the general public and the Canadian government that has all but disappeared. They described the Conservative government that was in power at the time as being not only more receptive to the plight of refugees, but a leader in refugee protection and humanitarianism. Its because of this humanitarian reception that they are alive today. Times are changing. Because of the current governments overhaul of the immigration and refugee system, refugees no longer have the same opportunities to escape precarious situations and rebuild their lives in Canada. Francisco describes his time in El Salvador: It was a time when the government of El Salvador was targeting people involved with political and human rights issues, and as a human rights lawyer I was at immediate risk. After a string of death threats the army arrived at my house and destroyed everything looking for something to link me with the Guerrilla. Before they departed they left a message with my 7-year-old son that if I didnt stop what I was doing they were going to kill my family. It was at that moment we

different if I were returning there to live. This journey would be even riskier if attempted today. Even after a protected person becomes a permanent resident they can be deported back to their country, if the government deems that conditions have changed for them. A key indicator in this evaluation is if the person has returned to their country for any reason. If this law were in effect 21 years ago, Francisco would have lost his status and been removed to El Salvador. The one question the minister isnt answering is if I were deported because I went to my country for a weekend, what would that mean for my wife and family? Its a loselose situation: put your family in harms way, or tear them apart. Loly added that Franciscos return to El Salvador in no way indicated that the situation had changed for him. Everybody can understand that even people in the most precarious situations may have to return for a short time. Maybe a family member is sick or dying, or you have been put in touch with a loved one and have a chance to save them. In those situations returning to a danger is an unfortunate necessity. Its a situation that demands flexibility and compassion from our government, not bureaucratic responses that do not consider the difficult realities of refugees lives. In 1990, when Francisco came back from El Salvador, the government called him to make sure he had returned safely. That was fundamental to me. It was that phone call that made me decide to stay... I felt welcomed, and that somebody cared about me and my family. Its unimaginable that that phone call would happen today. The Canada that saved me 22 years ago is disappearing.