The immigration process
On their arrival in Canada women have to retain their own lawyer, attend numerous interviews with the authorities, write a coherent statement regarding why she should be considered a refugee and convince an immigration officer and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada that she has a legitimate claim. When making a refugee claim in Canada, the claimant has to remember exact dates and times of when events occurred. This is extremely difficult for Somalis who tend not to emphasise how far they travelled from one city to another, or the date of their departure. This often leads to their claim being rejected due to inconsistencies or for lack of facts.
Throughout this long process, the claimant lives with uncertainty and at the same time beginning the stressful process of appealing the negative decision. Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted are faced with yet a further barrier. Canada introduced, in March 1993, gender guidelines which are intended to take into account such factors as the abuses women refugee claimants suffer. Unfortunately, in Somali society the stigma of making a claim based on rape or sexual abuse is so great that Somali women are unlikely to mention the rape or assault in the context of their claim or hearing. Without this information, their claim may be rejected. Under such circumstances women are forced to reveal the violations or remain silent for fear of being ostracised or blamed in their community. (See Chapter 3)
Another obstacle claimants face was created by the new immigration law, Bill C-86, implemented in February 1993. This Bill requires that, even after being found to be genuine refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board, claimants are still compelled to have documentation predating their entrance into Canada, in order to prove their identity. ‘Our primary concern is not to enter a situation where we are landing people and we don’t know who they are’, says Jim May, Chief of Immigrant and Visitor Operations. This requirement directly affects more women than men because fewer women than men were in positions which gave them access to, or required, documents such as a driving licence, employer’s contract, bank statements or passport. For women and men, documentation may have been lost when fleeing dangerous situations as a refugee. Refugees with their proper paperwork and documentation are rare. There is no system to apply for documentation proving their identity.
Some Somali women’s claims are rejected on the grounds that they could live in safe areas, inhabited by their children’s clan (i. e. the clan of their husband). Although the clan system is strong in Somalia, many clans are at war.
Refugee women also face sexism from Immigration and Refugee Board officers: one Somali woman was referred to by an Immigration officer as ‘my dear lady’ and ‘little lady’. Such language is sexist and patronising. Some immigration officers refer to Somali women’s dress styles, conforming to Islamic shari’a, as outdated and backward. Such attitudes may influence how a woman’s claim is decided.