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2003-03-19

Hundreds of Pakistanis Try to Flee to Canada As New Registration Deadline Looms

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President Bush yesterday delivered a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: he gave the Iraqi President and his son just 48 hours to flee the country, or be attacked. There are just a few hours left.

But thousands of people in this country are facing an imminent deadline of a very different kind. By March 21st, just two days from now, immigrants from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must register with immigration officials. If they don’t register, they will be imprisoned or deported. If they do register, many of them will also be imprisoned or deported. People from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait must register by April 25.

The deadline has prompted thousands of Pakistanis to try to flee to Canada. The Detroit Free Press is reporting border cities in New York, Michigan and Vermont have been transformed into unlikely refugee camps for hundreds waiting to get in. Vermont Refugee Assistance is swamped. It is recruiting local families to provide shelter for the hundreds of people awaiting appointments with Canadian immigration authorities or for husbands who are in jail. But after sheltering more than 200 people in the past six weeks, the agency says it can assist no more refugees.

If Canada turns away the refugees, they are at the mercy of US authorities, who separate families, detain them, and deport them.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has implemented a policy of detaining asylum seekers from 33 nations where al Qaeda has operated. The new policy could result in hundreds of arrests.

  • Monami Maulik, founder & organizer of DRUM, Desis Rising Up & Moving.
  • Elizabeth Woike, assistant director at Vive La Casa, An Organization for World Refugees in Buffalo.

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