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Saudi Woman Who Refuses Veil Wins Right to Refuge in Canada

February 4, 1993

TORONTO (AP) _ A young Saudi woman who refused to wear the veil in her Muslim homeland has won refugee status in Canada after claiming that her basic human rights were threatened because she was female.

After the Immigration and Refugee Board rejected the woman’s application for refugee status, Immigration Minister Bernard Valcourt intervened last week, permitting the woman identified in documents only as Nada to apply for permanent resident status.

Nada, who is in her 20s, had been in hiding since the September 1991 immigration board ruling.

She claimed her freedom of movement was restricted in Saudi Arabia and she was subjected to violence on numerous occasions simply because she walked down the street alone without covering her face. The immigration board, in rejecting her claim, counseled that she, ″like all her compatriots, would do well to comply with the laws of general application she criticizes and under all circumstances.″

Valcourt said the immigration board soon would release new guidelines that note that athough persecution of women is not specifically mentioned in the current law, ″the statue may properly be interpreted as providing protection to women who demonstrate a well-founded fear of gender-related persecution.″

The guidelines are better than nothing, said Marie-Louise Cote, the Montreal lawyer who represented Nada, in a telephone interview. ″But guidelines are not binding. You cannot force board members to render a decision in any way.″

Valcourt’s intervention in the case was a reversal of his earlier stand. Previously he had said Canada should not impose its values on other countries and that recognizing such cases would result in a flood of female refugees into Canada.

Nada, who hopes eventually to change her name and start a new life here as a Canadian citizen, declined to be interviewed.

She had the strong backing of Canada’s International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, as well as women’s groups.

The National Action Committee on the Status of Women said Valcourt’s ruling will not help 12 other women who face deportation to their home countries.

Judy Rebick, president of the organization, called for a moratorium on deportations of women until the definition of refugee status is reviewed.

″We need a change to the law so that gender persecution becomes clearly a basis of refugee status and a clear amendment to the law that includes women who are victims of domestic abuse where laws do not exist to protect them in their own country,″ Rebick said.

″Eighty percent of the world’s refugees are women and children, and yet two-thirds of the refugees that Canada accepts are male. The Canadian system obviously is biased in favor of men.″

Canada accepts the United Nations’ definition of a refugee as a person who has ″a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.″

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