Nairobi mystery deepens

From the Toronto Star Jul 17, 2009 04:30 AM


Staff Reporter

 

A human-rights organization wishing to help free a Toronto woman in Africa stepped into her Kafkaesque nightmare yesterday.

A case worker for German-founded Ecoterra International, in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, spent five hours phoning the Canadian High Commission, and nobody called him back.

"We might be able to shed some light and help the lady," a more senior Ecoterra officer, Aina Seering, had written the Star optimistically the day before.

"(We have) established links with the Kenyan authorities as well as the Canadian High Commission over many years."

But so far the assigned worker has merely glimpsed the surreal world of unstated charges, confiscated passports and faceless bureaucracy that has become all too familiar to the woman insisting she is Suaad Hagi Mohamud of Toronto.

"(The worker) was complaining to me, `They don’t want to answer,’" the woman said by cellphone from a Nairobi hotel. "Me too – I’m still waiting and nobody calls me."

One week has passed since the Canadian High Commission – at the woman’s insistence – took fingerprints to settle her identity after her passport was questioned by Kenyan police. Since then, nothing. No results, no explanation of the delay, no returned calls.

In Toronto, dozens of people vouch for her. She works the overnight shift as a mid-level supervisor at ATS courier in Etobicoke. Colleagues speak of her affectionately, keep in touch by phone and sometimes send money – $1,100 in the case of one colleague who asked not to be named.

Twelve-year-old son Mohamed Asbscir speaks to her every few days, as does neighbour and babysitter Shukri Abdi. There is no mistaking the woman, say her many friends, some who have known her from childhood in Somalia.

"We went to the same school," neighbour Fartun Mohamed said this week. "I was friends with her older sisters, Luul and Markaba. I know all the family."

Mohamud, 31, left Toronto on April 29 to visit her mother. She was ready to return May 17 when she says a Kenyan officer stopped her for not looking like her four-year-old passport photo.

"Kenya’s police force is known to be the most corrupt of Kenya’s public institutions," a Human Rights Watch report in February.

When dealing with Kenyan police, Transparency International reported in 2008, the chance of being asked for a bribe is 93 per cent.

Mohamud did not offer a bribe. She spent eight days in jail and was released on bail with no travel papers. Kenyan officials sent her passport to Canadian consular officials, who labelled her an "imposter," voided the passport and sent it back to the Kenyans for prosecution. She faces court next week.

Why Canada does not repatriate the woman and charge her with a passport offence remains unknown.

"The first order of business is to get verification of those (finger)prints," federal Liberal critic Dan McTeague said yesterday.

The process should take "a lot quicker" than a week.

In Nairobi, the woman maintains her poise.

"I’m lonely," she said yesterday. "I’m scared," she had said the day before. But she answers her phone, keeps appointments and always ends a call with this wish: "Have a great day."

A week of phone calls to government offices yielded one enigmatic riddle from Patrizia Giolti of the Canada Border Services Agency.

"The information you have received is not consistent with that provided by the person we have interviewed," she wrote by email.

Asked over voice mail yesterday if the agency still holds that position, Giolti did not reply.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/667646

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>