Syrian woman stuck in limbo after crossing illegally into Quebec calls for change

Zain Alabdullah crossed illegally into Quebec two months ago but doesn't qualify for refugee status. She hopes citizen action will put pressure on Canada to abolish the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Zain Alabdullah fled her home in Syria but doesn't qualify for refugee status in Canada

Zain Alabdullah entered Canada at an illegal border crossing two months ago after having fled Syria. (CBC)

Zain Alabdullah, who fled Syria and crossed into Quebec two months ago, is calling on the Canadian government to open its borders and give status to asylum seekers.

Speaking in Arabic, Alabdullah told CBC she left her home in Aleppo, where she'd been held as a political detainee, and went first to the United States.
Zain Alabdullah spoke ahead of a protest march in Cote-des-Neiges, with Jessica Attar (left) translating from Arabic to English. (CBC)

While there, she continued to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, terrified that she'd be deported and sent back to Syria.

"She lived in fear the whole time," said Jessica Attar, translating for Alabdullah at a rally in Montreal.

Soon after, she entered Quebec from an illegal border crossing point. 

'She was really terrified'

"She was very scared. Especially she's scared of everything related to police or military because of her PTSD," said Attar. "So she was really terrified that the RCMP would detain her or return her to Syria."

Alabdullah says that because she first landed in the U.S., the Safe Third Country Agreement prevents her from applying for refugee status.

"She asked for refugee status but she's ineligible for it," said Attar. "So now she's kind of without a status... In limbo."

And while Alabdullah doesn't qualify for refugee status, a federal regulation makes it impossible for the government to deport her back to Syria, deemed too dangerous because of the ongoing conflict.

More than 50 people gathered at Nelson Mandela Park to push for government action to help asylum seekers already in Canada. (CBC )

Calling for change

At a march organized by Solidarity Across Borders in Cote-des-Neiges on Sunday, Alabdullah said she hopes citizen action will put pressure on Canada to abolish the Safe Third Country Agreement.

In the meantime, she's focused on learning French and trying to find work so she can become "an effective member of society."

She's also hoping to seek treatment for her PTSD, which she's been unable to do since being diagnosed shortly after leaving Syria.

People marched through the streets of Cote-des-Neiges on Sunday. (CBC)

Illegal crossings dip down

One of the protest's organizers, Rosalind Wong, says forcing would-be refugees to use illegal border crossings is dangerous, and it's not deterring them long-term.

"When situations or circumstances in a country become intolerable for them — to make that difficult choice — is not easy," she said. "There's still danger created by crossing irregularly."

The latest statistics from the government of Canada show the number of illegal crossings from the United States has dropped in recent months.
Rosalind Wong is a member of Solidarity Across Borders. (CBC)

In April, 859 claims were made but in May that number dropped to 742. Quebec continues to see the highest number of claims. 

Wong says while stories of people being detained or facing harsh conditions may act as a temporary deterrent, people are still crossing and Canada needs to act to help them.

"We support open borders because we believe people have the right to move, return, to stay where they are, to stay where life if better for them and their loved ones."

With files from Navneet Pall