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U.S. Soldiers' Refugee Bid Gains Support

Posted on Friday, May 28 at 16:42 by -Mario-

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Friday, May 28, 2004 The Halifax Herald Limited

U.S. soldiers' refugee bid gains support

By NOAH LOVE / The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Two U.S. soldiers fighting for refugee status in Canada should be applauded for their actions and allowed to stay in the country, the organizers of a new campaign said Thursday.

Seven activists and scholars launched the War Resisters Support Campaign to show support for Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, who fled their respective military bases after refusing to fight in the Iraq war.

Gerry Condon fled the U.S. in 1969 after enlisting in the Green Berets. He first went to Sweden, then spent his last three years in exile in Canada before returning to the States in 1975 after his 10-year court martial sentence was overturned.

Condon, like all of the day's speakers, drew many parallels between the current war and the one in Vietnam that he withdrew from.

"The war in Iraq is just as illegal, just as immoral and just as much of an outrage to humanity as was the U.S. war against Vietnam," he said. "I'm here to thank Canada for giving me an alternative to prison or war . . . I'm also here to support a new generation of resisters."

Hinzman and Hughey are currently the only two resisters known to the group. Right now, Hinzman is the only one with a refugee status hearing, scheduled for July 7.

The group of seven, squeezed into the back of a community centre dance studio in mid-town Toronto, argued that the refugee claims are no different than any other and say the two soldiers, just like other refugee claimants, would be subject to persecution in their native country were they to return.

"To abandon the country you are born in, it carries a stigma that lasts all your life," said musician Bill King. "I think we have to embrace the young people who come here and understand there are higher principles involved here."

The refugee claims have also been under scrutiny because today's soldiers enlist voluntarily, as opposed to the situation in Vietnam, where young people were drafted by law to fight.

"First of all," Condon argued, "there is a draft. It's called the poverty draft. It's when the poor and working class don't have a chance for a decent job or education."

"They get a phone call from a military recruiter who says: 'You got the money together for college? We can help you out.' "

Education legislation in the U.S. has made it a requirement for high schools to provide names and contacts of all students to military recruitment offices.

Hinzman, who fled Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Hughey, who had been stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, were taken in by Quaker families when they arrived from the U.S.

Hughey remains with the same family that gave him refuge in early March. Hinzman, who arrived in Toronto on Jan. 3, has since moved into an apartment with his wife and their infant son, Liam. He is a popular speaker at anti-war conferences and rallies.

Both men were advised by their lawyer, Jeffry House, not to speak at the news conference.

A concert to support the call for the two soldiers' refugee claims will be held June 16 at the Hart House Theatre on the University of Toronto campus. The lineup includes family folk singer Eric Nagler and Molly Johnson, among others. The group is also pushing the federal government to pass legislation that allows war resisters sanctuary in the country.

Copyright © 2004 The Halifax Herald Limited

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