Immigration detainees recently shuffled from Toronto to a Lindsay facility have vowed to continue a hunger strike until detention conditions improve.
The 191 inmates, held in Toronto West Detention Centre before their transfer to Lindsay in August, staged a protest and held a brief hunger strike last Tuesday, claiming poor treatment at the new facility, located almost two hours from Toronto.
About 150 detainees resumed a hunger strike Monday, consuming only water and juices, said inmate Eric Kusi. At least four inmates have fallen sick due to low blood sugar and blood pressure, he said.
“We just want to be close to our families for visits and normal treatment from the jail,” Kusi, a native from Liberia, told Torstar News Service Tuesday through intermittent phone calls from Lindsay.
“We are getting a lot of lockdowns,” added the 48-year-old man, who has been detained for deportation since January 2012 and was moved to Lindsay on Aug. 19.
“My wife and four daughters used to see me once a week, but they can’t because this is so far and transportation is expensive.”
The detainees have released a list of demands to the media through their lawyers and advocates, pleading for better access to medical care and social workers, cheaper phone services to reach lawyers and families, and an end to constant lockdowns.
The detainees “are demanding the Canada Border Services Agency grant specific requests to move individuals to facilities nearer to their families, legal resources and social services” in the city, said Toronto immigration consultant Mac Scott, who was asked to distribute the list by the inmates.
Border officials said they are aware of their concerns and are working closely with the province to address them.
“A member of CBSA staff is stationed at the Central East Detention Centre Monday through Friday to address detainee immigration issues,” said CBSA spokesperson Anna Pape.
“Detainees also have access to a toll-free line in order to contact CBSA, the Red Cross, who assist them with legal services, and their family or legal counsel.”
Emelina Ramos of Fuerza/Puwersa, a migrant advocacy group based in Guelph, said Central East officials have agreed to let detainees access the same canteen as the rest of the prison population after last week’s protest.
Her group has launched an online petition asking Neil Neville, superintendent of the Lindsay facility, to meet the detainees’ needs. The campaign has collected more than 100 names so far.
Kusi said many detainees, including him, are being held indefinitely because no other country will provide them with travel documents.
“Detainees who do not have a criminal history should be detained in (regular) immigration holding centre while waiting for due process,” said Kusi, who was granted permanent residency status in 1990, but lost it after a fraud conviction and one-year jail term in 2011.
“Those who have been jailed indefinitely with no hope of getting travel documents should be released under supervision.”
According to the CBSA, close to 10,000 people were placed in immigration detention in 2011-2012 — about two-thirds in provincial jails and the rest in its own detention facilities. Each detained case costs an average $3,185.
Border services agency’s Pape said the move to Lindsay was initiated by the province’s ministry of community safety and correctional services, due to scheduled closures of two Toronto-area detention centres.
The detainees are expected to be transferred back to Toronto once the new Toronto South Detention Centre in Etobicoke is up and running in 2014, Pape said.