Two men suspected of being members of a Kurdish terrorist organization are being detained by Canadian border officials after claiming asylum here.
Experts say the pair, believed to have links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), will have a hard time winning the right to stay in Canada if they can't successfully disavow a connection to the Turkish militant group. Canada and other Western countries have blacklisted the PKK as a terrorist entity because of attacks against the Turkish government in support of establishing an independent Kurdish state across southern Turkey and northern Iraq. Canada listed the group as such in 2002.
But the politics have become more complicated. The U.S.-led war on Islamic State jihadis in Iraq and Syria has created strange bedfellows for coalition members such as Canada that shun the PKK. The Kurdistan Workers Party has emerged as a fellow combatant in the war against the extremists.
While they're not co-ordinating the battle with coalition forces, PKK fighters have worked alongside the United States in defending the Syrian town of Kobani, and they've been reportedly lauded by Iraqis for recapturing northern Iraq towns and rescuing people trapped by the conflict.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson pointed out recently that, for the time being at least, PKK is aligned with the U.S. and against the militant group also known as the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronym ISIL.
"[It's] an organization that is actually fighting against ISIL and [has] defended Kurdish territory in Iraq," Mr. Johnson said.
The two detained in Canada were among four Kurdish men caught in September trying to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico, according to Mr. Johnson.
The U.S. was detaining all four of these Turkish men, but an American judge recently ruled that two of them be released. The names of these men and the reasons why two were set free have not been divulged by the U.S.
This pair, however, fled to Canada and are now awaiting the judgment of this country's immigration system. Ottawa won't say where they are being held, but a U.S. lawmaker suggested this week they entered Canada from Washington State, which would make it likely the two were at least initially held in Vancouver.
Wesley Wark, an expert in national security who teaches at the University of Ottawa, said the law is not flexible when it comes to refugee seekers with affiliations to terror groups.
"If you are deemed to have in the past been a member of a terrorist organization, then the present circumstances of that organization or your own present circumstances don't really weigh in the case," he said.
Canada Border Services Agency says, however, that asylum seekers have the right to challenge a deportation.
"Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law and all removal orders are subject to various levels of appeal," spokeswoman Esme Bailey said.
Mr. Wark said it's very likely Canada will end up sending the two men back to the United States. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., people from abroad seeking refugee protection must make a claim in whichever of the two countries they arrive in first.
The Washington Times has reported that in late August the four men flew from Istanbul through Paris to Mexico City, where they were met by a Turkish-speaking man who stashed them in a safe house until a Sept. 3 attempt to enter the U.S.
They were captured by the U.S. border patrol in Texas, the Times has reported, citing internal government documents, and were held at the South Texas Detention Facility in the town of Pearsall.
It's unclear what the four men were trying to accomplish. None of them admitted to being part of a plot against the U.S., according to the Times, which reported several told investigators they were hoping to seek asylum and believed they were being targeted by police in Turkey.
The Washington newspaper said the four escaped detention Sept. 10. Two of them turned themselves in to local police, who turned them over to the border patrol – and the other two men were recaptured.