Algeria Dancers Granted Canada Refugee Status

Thursday, 12 Sep 2013 05:49 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Nearly three years after their defections, seven members of the Algerian National Ballet have been granted refugee status in Canada, and the claim of an eighth is being reviewed, Canada’s National Post reports.
 
The dancers sought refuge in Canada on the grounds they had been threatened by Algerian Islamists who equate ballet with homosexuality and “depravity.” Neither police nor the ballet company took steps to protect them, they said.
 
The eight escaped in November 2010 following performances in Ottawa and Montreal, part of a tour organized by the Algerian embassy to mark the 56th anniversary of the nation’s war of independence against France, according to the Post.
 
After they defected, Algerian officials — including an official at the Algerian embassy in Ottawa and a former director of the national ballet reportedly threatened the dancers with reprisals.
 
“At the outset, they asked for asylum because they feared the Islamists. They had threats,” said Stéphane Handfield, the Montreal lawyer who represented one of the dancers, Mohamed Djouah, at a recent court hearing.
 
Once the group requested asylum in Canada, Algerian authorities, including officials at the Algerian embassy in Ottawa, “threatened to pick up not just the eight members of the national ballet who deserted but they also threatened to pick up their families in Algeria,” Handfield wrote.
 
The El Watan newspaper later quoted an unnamed official at the Algerian embassy in Ottawa, who reportedly said the dancers would be brought home in handcuffs “CIA-style” and that their families in Algeria would be taken into custody.
 
Djouah told immigration authorities that while performing for various Algerian dance groups since the age of 13, he had been subjected to repeated threats from Islamist extremists.
 
He had reported them to police without any effect.
 
“They are artists,” Handfield said. “And artists, especially dancers, are considered [by militant Islamists] to be close to homosexuality.”
 
The Immigration and Refugee Board initially rejected Djouah’s claim. But a federal court overturned that decision Aug. 20 on the grounds the Board had not given sufficient weight to the threats by Algerian officials to retaliate against the dancers who had jumped ship.

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