Humanitarian Worker|Wins Asylum Review

     (CN) – Immigration authorities will reconsider the political asylum case of a Colombian woman who said she received death threats from a band of violent revolutionaries for providing medical services to impoverished communities.

     The 7th Circuit granted asylum review to Doris Martinez-Buendia, who ran an organization called the Health Brigades in Barranquilla, Colombia. The group provided medical care and other services to rural, impoverished communities.
     She said she began receiving threatening phone calls and notes at her home and office two years before she fled Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a fiercely militant anti-government group, allegedly demanded that she publicly credit her organization’s humanitarian activities to the FARC.
     Martinez-Buendia said the threats escalated as she ignored the demands. On the way to a rural village, a Health Brigade caravan was stopped by FARC members, who kidnapped Martinez-Buendia’s sister, according to Martinez-Buendia.
     She said FARC continued to harass her, threatening to kill her sister unless she complied. She explained that she refused to cooperate with the FARC “because they have harmed a lot of Colombia and my beginnings would not let me or allow me to do this.”
     Though her sister escaped capture after being beaten, Martinez-Buendia claimed, her brother-in-law was later kidnapped and died in a FARC camp.
     Martinez-Buendia said she finally left Colombia after a FARC member followed her into a cab and held a gun to her head, threatening death if she did not agree to cooperate within 30 days.
     The Board of Immigration Appeals denied her petition for asylum, saying the militant group’s actions were “motivated by the FARC’s own political agenda and not by a desire to punish Martinez-Buendia for her political opinion.”
     The 7th Circuit reversed, however, finding that Martinez-Buendia had suffered political persecution.
     “If political opposition is the reason an individual refuses to cooperate with a guerrilla group, and that individual is persecuted for his [or her] refusal to cooperate … the persecution is on account of the individual’s political opinion,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote.
     Judge David Hamilton agreed in a concurring opinion, adding that the board erred in failing to recognize the Health Brigade as a social group persecuted for its activities.
     “The FARC sees [humanitarian groups] as its competitors for control over the towns and regions where both they and the FARC operate,” he wrote.
     Hamilton wrote that future asylum applicants in humanitarian aid organizations “should not be denied asylum simply because that membership may appear more fluid than membership in a racial, ethnic, or religious group.”

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