Montreal’s immigrant families face the stresses of an unwelcoming government

Deportation, looming expulsion, and asylum follow three different families
by Milos Kovacevic & Jessica Kenwood

The continuing travails of a LaSalle family who say they face female genital mutilation and death if deported and a Pakistani grandmother who recently lifted her self-imposed asylum are highlighting the difficult situations of families and individuals ordered out by the federal government.

The Fuh-Cham family have called Canada home long enough for two of their youngest members to be born here. The looming conclusion to a 4-year fight for refugee status is set to come to a head on October 9, threatening to send them back to their native Cameroon and, according to their supporters, real danger.

Father Hilary Fuh-Cham claims that ever since the death of his father in his birth village, the role of community chief has devolved to him – with all the tribal and cultural requirements that come with it. Besides polygamy, which the Catholic Fuh-Chams do not adhere to, he says his wife Yvette and two daughters will be forced to undergo genital mutilation. His fate may be worse.

“For me, because I have already refused to do the traditional rights that warrant me to succeed my father, they will try to kill me and put my son as the chief,” he said.

“I think the government is looking for any reason [to reject their application],” said fellow parishioner and longtime family friend Wendy de Souza. She named one example in particular: the government’s insistence on having the death certificate for Hilary’s father, despite the fact that they hail from a rural region where such bureaucratic formalities are unheard of.

Though there was a mixed crowd of supporters from all walks of life, it was their fellow Cameroonians who most closely identified with their plight of familial pressures and traditional cultural.

“All those things happen. It’s a normal tradition,” said Montreal Cameroonian Goodwill Association President Julius Ashu of female genital mutilation, which isn’t limited to Cameroon and occurs in neighbouring countries across the region.

“I am pleading with the Minister of Immigration to try to look at my file once more because I have a strong conviction that we do qualify to remain here as permanent residents on humanitarian and compassionate reasons,” added Fuh-Cham.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” he said repeatedly when asked to contemplate a life back in Cameroon.

Photo by Keith Race.

One of many attending the event was Patrick Asch, Circonscription Assistant to LaSalle-Emard MP Hélène LeBlanc, whose office has been fighting the government’s decision all the way to Ottawa. So far their efforts at reaching out to those who could help the family, such as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, have been met with very little success.

“It doesn’t represent the reality,” said Asch of the governments dissenting opinion of the danger the family, and in particular the women, face in Cameroon. “The questions of tribal rituals, the dangers linked to it, the questions of kidnapping [and taking them back to the community] are known. Experts say they occur, however our government chooses to ignore the reality.”

“The basic reason they left is because they wanted to practice their religion,” he said. “If the Conservatives have the gall on the one hand to decide they’re going to create an office of the Freedom of Religion…and then completely ignore it…this is not acceptable,” he said of the campaign to convince Canada’s ambassador for the Office of Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett.

“Why do we forcibly take people out at great cost to Canadian society when these people are hardworking tax-paying citizens, and then we put them in a situation when our government afterwards maybe will accept them on humanitarian grounds? In the end, it’s a lose-lose situation for the family, it’s a lose-lose situation for the government.”

Asch said that despite signatures and rallies and protests, MPs were ultimately incapable of going against the decisions of offices such as Immigration and the Canadian border services, and that the stay of deportation could only come from on high.

The crowd meanwhile remained defiant.

“Since it is a fight between David and Goliath, all we need is a little faith,” said one attendant to the sound of amens.

Grandmother’s asylum ordeal ends

Meanwhile the Anglican Church on Union St. held a press conference on Sept. 22 to demand the denied refugee status of Pakistan-native Khurshid Begum Awan be overturned.

Awan’s daughter Tahira Malik moved to Canada at the age of 16 in 2000 after  suffering conjugal violence from her husband, who’d joined a Pakistani anti-Shia extremist group. Awan, her husband and 16-year-old grandson Ali followed her in 2011 after being targeted and beat by the extremists.

The Awan family’s refugee claim was rejected in December 2011. Mr. Awan was deported in April 2013. Malik claims that he was “sent back in a wheelchair, we didn’t even get to say goodbye”. He is now living in hiding in Pakistan.

Suffering from heart failure and mental illness, Mrs. Awan was invited by Bishop Barry Brian Clarke to live in sanctuary at his church; as were Malik and Ali who tried their best to take care of her despite deterioration due to lack of proper medical attention.

Mrs. Awan was forced to leave the church in August to file for her refugee status reassessment, which led to her arrest and released on $5,000 bail – paid by Bishop Clarke.

Currently Awan’s lawyer Stewart Istvanffy said that she’s under no risk of immediate deportation. He also noted that while he says his client has a very strong case, the government wasn’t budging.

“The Canadian government doesn’t believe in correcting mistakes,” he explained at the press conference. “They are deaf, dumb and blind in front of human misery, in front of human suffering”.

Malik and her son Ali have been granted Canadian citizenship but Malik explained that they will follow her mother if it comes to expulsion.

“My son won’t leave my mother,” she tearfully explained. “If they go back, I have to go.”

Last week, Montreal resident of 6 years Winifred Agimelen and her three children were deported back to Nigeria despite the kidnapping and possible female genital mutilation she said awaited them there.

If you wish to show support and follow the Fuh-Cham story, visit the official support website

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