Deportation orders stayed for Ayele and Samsu

Posted by admin on Dec 16th, 2004

Globe and Mail, 16 December 2004
Ingrid Peritz

MONTREAL — Immigration Minister Judy Sgro has given a reprieve to five people who had been sheltered for prolonged stays in two churches, a move seen as an attempt to defuse the thorny issue of church sanctuary. The Ayele family in Montreal and Samsu Mia in Ottawa have both been holed up since the summer of 2003, refusing to leave their sanctuaries for fear of being deported. Both had the opportunity this week to breathe fresh air and walk outdoors freely for the first time.

“I want to thank God, thank [Ms. Sgro], and thank each and every Canadian,” said Menen Ayele, an Ethiopian woman who was given sanctuary at the Union United Church in Montreal with her three school-age children.

Refugee groups say they’re hopeful Ms. Sgro’s decision to suspend deportation orders in the two cases and grant temporary residency signals an attempt to resolve other outstanding sanctuary cases. Eight people are in sanctuary in four churches of varying denominations across the country, according to the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition; three are in Montreal and one is in Vancouver. “Minister Sgro was courageous and compassionate and we commend her for her position,” said Heather Macdonald, a representative of the United Church of Canada, who met with Ms. Sgro in Toronto on Monday.Ms. Macdonald said churches assured the minister that giving Mr. Mia and the Ayeles a break would not open the floodgates to other would-be immigrants hoping for the same outcome. “We see it as a last resort.” But it’s also emotionally and psychologically exhausting. So we know it’s not an answer.” Advocacy groups have been pressing Ms. Sgro to find a resolution to the sanctuary cases, and discussions began last summer. The advocates say the presence of people in sanctuary crystallizes the failures of Canada’s refugee-determination process.

“If there were an actual appeal mechanism [in Canada’s refugee determination system], most of these cases wouldn’t have to consider sanctuary,” said Montreal lawyer Rick Goldman, a spokesman for the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition. Ms. Sgro intervened in the two cases because of their “exceptional circumstances,” a spokeswoman for the minister said yesterday. She would not elaborate.

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