Calgary

Mexican refugee claims jump in Calgary

Calgary has seen an influx of refugee claimants ever since Mexicana Airlines started offering direct flights from Mexico City last June. Mexico led the list of countries whose citizens made refugee claims in Calgary last year.

Calgary has seen an influx of refugee claimants ever since Mexicana Airlines started offering direct flights from Mexico City last June.

Last year, 339 Mexican refugee claims from Calgary were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, more than four times the number in 2006. Mexico is now the top country for refugee claims in Calgary.

Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said he is seeing more Mexicans in Calgary claiming refugee status.

"In the past we've had also had claimants, but not in the numbers we're seeing today," Birjandian said.

"Recently, because we have this direct flight from Mexico and many Mexicans they don't need a visitor's visa to come to Canada, so it is an easy way [for them to flee their country] if they're harassed or chased by criminals and have their human rights violated."

Alex Perez, a Mexican who works with refugees in Calgary, said the violent drug war back home is driving people into exile, and more and more Mexicans see Calgary as a possible destination.

"Calgary, if you know someone — [as] a newcomer from Mexico, people help you. In the United States, it's the opposite," he said.

Most refugee claims rejected

New Calgary resident Cesar Colli Solis said he had to leave the Mexican state of Yucatan when 12 people were found naked and decapitated outside his hometown last summer.

The 30-year-old told CBC he was part of a grassroots political group that helped local farmers stand up against government officials and drug cartels. He said that, in apparent retaliation, someone broke into his car, battered it and left a threatening note.

After receiving death threats, Colli Solis and a friend sold their personal belongings and went to Mexico City, where they boarded a Mexicana plane and flew straight to Calgary.

"Not Toronto, " he said. "Maybe I have more chance for the job [in Calgary]?"

But not everyone who comes to Calgary with hopes of staying will be allowed to remain. The Immigration and Refuge Board only accepted 15 per cent of claims by Mexicans last year.

"The more democratic the country, the more an individual is expected to seek protection within their country before seeking international protection," said board spokeswoman Paula Faber.

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