Toronto – Ten days after his death in Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) custody, the grieving family of Francisco Javier Romero Astorga are still seeking answers. To date, CBSA has not revealed Francisco’s name and has not contacted his family with details on his death. Migrant justice groups are criticizing CBSA’s lack of transparency and insisting on an end to immigration detention.
The family made an appeal to the Canadian public this afternoon for help in getting answers. “Francisco left Chile in perfect health, he spent much of his recent time in Canada in immigration detention and now he is dead. All we know is that the cause of death is ‘undetermined’, it makes no sense,” said his brother Esteban over Skype at a press conference in Toronto today.
“Francisco was a dreamer who was always looking to make the future brighter. He went to Canada for a ‘new beginning’ and we can’t rest till we at least know how he died, and that other families will not suffer like us,” added his sister Cecilia.
While the CBSA has not even released Francisco’s name, Francisco’s family members contacted the migrant justice coalition and detentions watch-dog End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) after reading about the group’s vigil for deaths in detention last week.
“Francisco would not be dead today if he had not been in immigration detention,” says End Immigration Detention Network member Macdonald Scott. “How can someone just die in government custody and we are told that the cause of death is unknown? There have been 14 such deaths in immigration detention since 2000, 7 in just the last three years. Immigration detention is killing people and it must end.”
Francisco is the 14th person known to have died while being detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and is the second person to die in CBSA custody in the span of a week. On March 7, 64 year old refugee Melkioro Gahungu committed suicide under CBSA’s watch in immigration detention rather than be deported to Burundi from where he fled. End Immigration Detention Network is calling for an end to immigration detention; and as interim steps a 90 day limit on detentions; an end to imprisonment of migrants in maximum security prisons; and an overhaul of the judicial review process of detentions.
The family is also seeking financial assistance to transport the body back to Chile for a funeral. “No one from the federal Canadian government, including the Canada Border Services Agency, has contacted us. We do not know of an autopsy and no results of any tests or reasons for his death have been given to us. All we know is that his body lies in a hospital, and that we must pay nearly $10,000 to bring him home to give him a proper burial. Our brother, our son’s body has been in a hospital for ten days already, and we are in pain every minute that passes. Behind all this tragedy is a family and a mother who are grieving,” added Esteban reading from a joint family statement.
“When cause of death is “undetermined”, the Chilean government does not release the pension that a person has collected. As a result, Francisco’s children will not see a single peso of that money, and we have to bear the costs of transporting his body,” he added.
Francisco arrived in Canada in October 2015. His family was informed by the Chilean consulate that he was detained in January 2016 but no reasons were provided. The next call they got was also from the consulate telling them that their son, their brother was dead. Francisco is survived by four children, Ignacio 10, Hector 11, Aimy 12 and Camila 19.
Key facts about immigration detention & violations
- Since 2000, at least 14 immigrants have died in CBSA custody. 8 of the 14 deaths took place in Ontario provincial prisons. Most common cause of death is denial of adequate health care followed by suicide. CBSA has never publicly revealed details of all the deaths in its custody.
- Over 7300 migrants were detained without charges or trial in 2013. Approximately, one-third of all detention happens in maximum security provincial facilities rented out by provincial governments to Canada Border Services Agency. 60% of all detentions take place in Ontario. In 2013, migrant detainees spent a whopping total of 183,928 days (that’s over 503 years) in immigration detention. Detentions cost over a quarter of a billion dollars over five years.
- CBSA regularly imprisons children. At the same time, it does not report on imprisonment of children with Canadian citizen insisting that they are ‘accompanying’ their parents.
- Canada is one of the few western countries in the world without a time limit on detentions, thus some immigrants have been jailed for over 12 years without charges or trial. The United Nations has twice asked Canada to end this practice.
- There is absolutely no system to determine under what circumstances some detainees are held in one of three federal immigration holding centres (Toronto, Laval and Vancouver) and the rest in provincial jails.
- The decision to detain or release is made by civil servants, who are not legally trained, known as Board Members. Board Members release rates vary arbitrarily between 5% and 38%. Release rates also vary by region, 9% in Ontario, and 26.5% in the rest of Canada. There is no comprehensive judicial oversight of these decisions. An immigration detainee does not have an automatic right of appeal.
- If convicted for a crime, immigrants unlike citizens are punished three times. First, for the crime itself, Second, by having their immigration status revoked or if it’s in process, denied, and pushed into deportation. Third, by being jailed, in some cases indefinitely.
- CBSA has been found to use international smugglers to get fake documents to deport migrants to countries they have no connections to, as in the case of Michael Mvogo. See full details here.
- CBSA flies detainees to Kenya, and then pays bush-pilots US$25,000 in cash to transport those detainees to Somalia. See CBC investigation in the case of Saeed Jama here.
- The purpose of detention is stated to be ‘flight risk’ or ‘danger to the public’. There exist no criteria to make this designation, and no appeals process or access to courts to challenge it. Immigration detention is limited to undocumented residents – who may be denied refugee claimants, migrants who overstayed their work, study or visit permits or former permanent residents who had their status revoked. Contrary to popular perception, 94.2 percent of refugees are detained on grounds other than being an alleged security threat.
Immigration detainees known to have died in custody since 2000
At least 8 of the known deaths have taken place in Ontario provincial prisons
- Francisco Javier Romero Astorga (March 2016) Cause of death unknown (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Melkioro Gahungu (March 2016) Suicide (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan (June 2015) ‘Restrained by guards’ (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Joseph Dunn (September 2014) Suicide (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Prince Maxamillion Akamai (April 2014) Denied adequate medical care (Toronto Immigration Holding Centre)
- Unidentified man (March 2013) Cause of death unknown (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Lucia Vega Jimenez (December 2013) Suicide (in Vancouver immigration holding centre)
- Shawn Dwight Cole (December 2012) Denied adequate medical care (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Unidentified man (August 2010) Cause of death unknown (in Laval immigration holding centre)
- Kevon O’Brien-Phillip (January 2010) Beaten by fellow inmates (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Jan Szamko (December 2009) Denied adequate medical care (in Toronto immigration holding centre)
- Joseph Fernandes (January 2007) Denied adequate medical care (in Toronto immigration holding centre)
- Sheik Kudrath (April 2000) Denied adequate medical care (in Ontario provincial prison)
- Unidentified man (Unknown) Cause of death unknown (unknown)