Former Hamilton student fears torture in Africa

Muhammed Sillah is fighting against deportation to Gambia. He also says he has been treated unfairly by the Canadian government.
Muhammed Sillah and his common-law spouse, Sarah Mallette. Sillah says that he will be killed if he is deported to his native Gambia. (Courtesy of Sarah Millette )

A former Mohawk College student claims he is being detained unjustly by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

He also says he will be tortured and killed if sent back to his native Gambia.

Mohammed Sillah, an undocumented migrant, is being held at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. while fighting deportation to Gambia.

Sillah travelled to Canada on a student visa in 2006 to study network engineering at Mohawk. After running out of money, however, he dropped out of school and began working under the table detailing cars in Toronto.

He said his undocumented status was revealed to authorities after he was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction in 2011.

Sillah filed a refugee claim, stating that he was fearful of being deported to Gambia. The claim, according to Sillah, was initially granted but then denied.

He has been under detention since May 2013.

Sillah was moved to the medium/maximum security prison in Nov. 2013 after spending six months at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre in Etobicoke, a facility designed for low-risk detainees.

Anna Pape, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said that she could not comment on individual cases.

‘The CBSA relies on correctional facilities to detain higher-risk detainees (i.e. criminal background, danger to the public, serious medical concerns)…’ she wrote in an email to CBC News.

But Sillah alleges that his relocation to the Lindsay facility was prompted by a petition he sent to management at the Toronto Holding Centre regarding conditions faced by detainees.

'I was cuffed, I was shackled'

The twenty-nine year-old told CBC News that the purpose of the petition was to address what he described as inadequate protection against the cold.

“We were being forced to go outside and the weather was changing drastically and getting cold. Some of the detainees were arrested and detained without jackets, and that was a concern for us. I wrote a petition and we all signed it.”

Sillah said that there was no response to the petition, so he wrote “up to five letters” about facility conditions.

Sillah alleges that the supervisor at the Etobicoke prison was “very troubled” by the petition and subsequent letters. According to Sillah, the supervisor had previously told him that there “was an open door policy,” and that any concerns he might have should be brought directly to him, as opposed to sharing them with an “outside source.”

Sillah describes being brought to a discharge office at 9 AM on Nov. 12.

“I was cuffed, I was shackled, and I was brought to Lindsay. Nobody told me why I was being moved. Nobody told me anything. When I got to [Lindsay], the guy that brought me here handed over a form to the correctional officers in Lindsay. That letter stated that I have extreme uncooperative behavior with regards to policy and procedures within the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre. That’s absolutely false because I do not have any uncooperative behavior…no guard could ever attest to that,” Sillah said.

“It’s basically a false allegation to get me out of there and stopped writing petitions and stop raising awareness of what’s really going in that facility.”

Fear of torture in Gambia

Sillah, who said that he has been on the receiving end of racist taunts from guards in Toronto and Lindsay, is awaiting the outcome of a pre-risk removal assessment from the federal government.

He says he will be arrested and tortured if he is deported to his native Gambia.

“My life is in extreme danger. Even in Canada, the Gambian government is capable of hiring agents to come and put my life at risk in Canada. I have become one of the top advocates for democracy in Gambia, and I have received numerous threats online and through the telephone. It is 100% obvious that my life would be at risk.”

Sillah’s common-law spouse, twenty-nine year-old Burlington native Sarah Mallette, said that her partner doesn’t have a criminal record and isn’t a flight risk.

Mallette told CBC News that the ordeal has been “very difficult” for her family, and that her partner’s experience has shaken her belief in the Canadian justice system.

"I’m a fourth generation Canadian. I love Canada very much. I’m very proud to say I’m Canadian. But, unless you become very involved in [the immigration system] with all of the new changes, and you kind of witness yourself what’s happening, you have no idea.”

“My eyes were blown wide open,” she continued. “Very shocked, very shamed. Not only at this point is it about the life of my husband, but also about how I view my own integrity and honour as a Canadian. I don’t want all of these refugees and immigrants leaving Canada feeling so denied justice.”

'No interest in staying in Canada'

Sillah said that he has been passing time reading newspapers, writing articles, watching documentaries on the CBC’s Passionate Eye and thinking about his future.

He says he expects a decision from the Canadian Border Service Agency within the next five to seven weeks. Even he is allowed to stay in Canada, though, Sillah said that he hopes it won’t be forever.

“I have absolutely no interest in staying in Canada indefinitely. I have a family back home, and I am very, very interested in going back to Gambia and contributing to the development of my own country.”


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