Kurdish refugees suspected of trying to enter Canada illegally via St-Pierre but deny accusation
Kamel Rahman detained, repeatedly questioned during family's visit to French archipelago
Authorities in St-Pierre-Miquelon suspected an Iraqi Kurdish refugee family of travelling to the French archipelago in order to enter Canada illegally, but Kamel Rahman maintains police had no reason to detain and repeatedly interrogate him during his family's vacation.
The Rahman family arrived in St-Pierre last Monday aboard the weekly direct flight linking Paris to the archipelago's Pointe-Blanche airport. It was there the saga with St-Pierre's border police began, Kamel Rahman said.
"The border police … told us it was impossible to get to Canada. I told them we'd come [to St-Pierre] to enjoy ourselves, for tourism with our friends," said Rahman in French.
Rahman said he planned a two-week trip to St-Pierre because it was a convenient middle ground for meeting up with friends living in Canada and the United States.
A week in St-Pierre-Miquelon, it was like being in prison.- Kamel Rahman
But he said after his first fractious interactions with police, he suggested his friends cancel their trips. A friend in the U.S did so, but Rahman said Arasta Khorso, a childhood friend from Iran living in Toronto, decided to forge ahead with his visit anyway.
3 passports too many
Rahman said that when Khorso arrived alone in St-Pierre last week, border police found passports for Khorso's wife and children tucked inside his bags. It was a lapse in memory, according to Rahman. But it was still enough to raise red flags for French authorities.
"My friend had three passports too many: for his wife and for [each of] his two kids," Rahman said, while emphasizing that Khorso's two children are boys. Rahman has two daughters.
St. Pierre officials detained Khorso last week, upon his arrival on the Fortune-St-Pierre ferry, and kept him overnight. Rahman was detained the following day, at which point, he said, police also seized his family's telephones and laptops.
Rahman said after several hours in detention, he and Khorso were let go. But by that time, a ticket back to Fortune — the site of St-Pierre ferry terminal in Newfoundland — had already been booked for Khorso.
CBC/Radio-Canada was not able to reach Arasta Khorso for an interview.
Kamel Rahman arrived in St-Pierre with more than €5,000 in cash (about $7,400) in his possession, money he said was meant to cover costs associated with the trip.
"I paid 2,000 [euros] just for the hotel," Rahman said. "We're a family of four and we expected 10 people to be coming. It [the money] wouldn't last that long with 10 people around."
Rahman, a refugee who left Iraq in December 2015 and eventually arrived in France during the summer of 2016, said the idea he was planning to enter Canada illegally through St-Pierre is absurd. He added that prior to his visit, he obtained a travel permit from the French government allowing him to travel to any country except Iraq.
"The police would say to me, 'Sir, Canada isn't possible,'" Rahman said. "I'm on a paid holiday … I work, I have a house in Nantes [France]. I like Nantes."
"It would be easy for me to have asked for a visa to Canada," Rahman said.
Rahman said his repeated run-ins with law enforcement in St-Pierre left their mark.
"A week in St-Pierre and Miquelon, it was like being in prison," he said.
Trip cut short
Rahman said that last Thursday, after four days in St-Pierre, he asked police whether he could move up his family's flights home by a week. He cancelled the second week of their hotel stay and on Tuesday afternoon, the Rahmans returned to Paris.
The Service de la Police aux Frontières, St-Pierre-Miquelon's border police, told CBC/Radio-Canada it had "no comment" on Rahman's detention and interrogation.
The Canada Border Services Agency also said, in a statement, that it would not comment on whether Arasta Khorso was under investigation following his detention by French officials.
"The CBSA does not normally disclose whether an individual or business is under investigation," the statement said.