Saturday, August 22, 2009

Canadian with autism stuck in Kenya for three years because of passport dispute

From The National Post in Canada:

A Canadian man who has been stranded in Kenya for three years after a dispute over the legitimacy of his passport photo may finally return to Canada in coming weeks, the man's lawyer said August 20.

Abdihakim Mohamed, a 25-year-old Canadian who has autism, has been stuck in Kenya since a 2006 attempt to renew his passport was halted by Canadian officials who claimed his ears looked different in a new passport photo, said his Ottawa-based lawyer Jean Lash.

Mr. Mohamed's mother, Anab Issa, has attempted to prove her son's identity through a series of affidavits, but the process has been stalled because Mr. Mohamed, who was born in Somalia, doesn't have a birth certificate or other documents that the Canadian government requested he produce to prove his identity.

The case draws a parallel to that of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a 31-year-old Canadian citizen who returned to Canada Saturday after she was trapped in Kenya for three months after Canadian officials said her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo.

Critics say both cases were hampered by the Canadian High Commission in Kenya. Mohamed Dalmar, a manager at the Catholic Immigration Centre of Ottawa, believes officials are wary of the large number of Somali refugees who have fled conflict in their own country and may be looking for a way into Canada.

"Along the years, you get a mentality to be extra careful of these people," Mr. Dalmar said. "The High Commission [is] more watchful and assumes that these people want to come to Canada by fraudulent means."

Mr. Dalmar, a Somali-Canadian, has worked with Ms. Issa for the past three years as she has struggled to bring her son back to Canada.

According to Ms. Lash, in 2004 Mr. Mohamed went back to Somalia with his mother after a doctor recommended that a spending time with family members in his home country might help the young man's autism.

Ms. Issa left her son with his grandmother and aunt in Somalia and went back to Canada, taking her son's passport with her for safekeeping.

"What she did was reasonable under the circumstances," Ms. Lash said. "She thought she had authority to carry it and she knew that if she left it in Somalia with him it could get stolen."

At Pearson International Airport, Ms. Issa was stopped and her son's passport confiscated. The passport then expired and when Ms. Issa applied for a new one in 2006, Kenyan officials denied that request. In 2008, Passport Canada told her she was under investigation for applying for a passport for an imposter. It was then that Ms. Issa, an Ottawa-resident with limited means, first contacted a lawyer.

Ms. Lash said just three weeks ago, she got the good news that Mr. Mohamed would be granted a passport after one final affidavit.

"The bottom line is, I am satisfied that we can resolve it now," Ms. Lash said.