Eritrean rebels not welcome: Ottawa

Eritrean rebels not welcome: Ottawa
‘Acts Of Terror’

Stewart Bell,
Published: Monday, June 09, 2008


Sami Sallinen/ReutersA woman applaudes a truckload of Eritrean students leaving for military service from the Eritrean capital Asmara, May 19, 2000.
The Eritrean Liberation Front was formed in Cairo, trained in Syria and had an office in Sudan but now its members are turning up in Canada.

Members of the obscure east African guerrilla group have been arriving and requesting asylum, but federal immigration authorities have told them they cannot stay.

During Eritrea’s 30-year fight for independence, the ELF hijacked an Ethiopian airliner, kidnapped British and U.S. civilians and killed a Dutch missionary nurse.

That makes them terrorists, according to the Canada Border Services Agency, which has been fighting in court to ensure the former guerrillas do not resettle in this country.

Roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Eritrea borders Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Red Sea. Ethiopia annexed the region in 1962. Eritreans responded by launching a guerrilla war.

The ELF was the main Eritrean armed group until a split within the organization led to the creation of the leftist Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, which won independence for the country in 1991. According to a Canadian immigration document, the ELF was responsible for attacks on civilians intended to “compel the Ethiopian government to listen to the demands of the ELF…. In my opinion, the above constitute acts of terror.”

The report was filed in the Federal Court of Canada as part of the government’s case against Shewainesch Tsegai Ugbazghi, 56, who allegedly joined the ELF at age 24 and now lives in Toronto.

“Ms. Tsegai Ugbazghi was a member of the Eritrean Liberation Front,” begins a report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which interviewed her. “She indicated that she was a member of the ELF from March, 1977, to December, 1992. … She discussed her long struggle in Eritrea due to her affiliation with the ELF.

“She stated her duties included distributing written materials, participating in meetings and encouraging Eritreans to join the ELF and give financial support.”

The case is one of a half-dozen before the Federal Court involving alleged ELF members, including one described by an immigration officer as having held a “leadership position within the organization.”

Ms. Ugbazghi was born in Asmara, Eritrea, in 1952. Her father was in the ELF. She was 14 when her family arranged her marriage to the manager of a soap factory. By the time she was 24, she had seven children.

“I joined the ELF, the main opposition group, in 1977,” she wrote in her refugee claim. “I used to distribute written materials; participate [in] meetings and I would encourage Eritrean people to join ELF and giving [sic] financial support to ELF.”

She was arrested in 2001 after returning to Ethiopia from Germany. She was released after seven days, but was detained again in 2002, accused of being a spy. She says she was tortured and spent two weeks in hospital recovering.

That same year, she came to Canada and, in 2003, was accepted as a refugee, but when she applied for permanent residence she was turned down because of her ELF past.

A 2007 immigration report said there was no indication she was personally involved in violence, and she claimed to be unaware the ELF had committed terrorism.

“Unfortunately, pleading ignorance is not a good enough defence,” the immigration officer wrote. “It cannot be argued that she was too young or too uneducated to make a decision to advance the goals of the group.”

Her lawyer said the group in which she was active was “more of a support group” and that her involvement fell short of full-fledged membership.

“My involvement with the ELF consisted primarily of attending meetings once every month or two,” she wrote in an affidavit. “The meetings were held on Sundays after church and were attended primarily by a small group of women.

“I went to these meetings because I was aware that the government of Ethiopia at the time was carrying on a campaign against Eritrean people within Ethiopia. Eritreans were being killed and their lives were being destroyed.”

The group consisted of about 10 people and she says she had no formal position and did not carry a membership card, although she admits she gave small sums of money to buy food and clothing for the “freedom fighters.”

But the CBSA determined she had been a member of an organization that engaged in terrorism, and she was therefore inadmissible to Canada. The Federal Court upheld that decision in a May 30 ruling.

“While I can’t comment on the ELF cases specifically, I can tell you that CBSA’s first priority is to remove those in Canada who are threats to national security or have been engaged in serious criminality,” CBSA spokesman Chris Williams said.

National Post

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