Churches are now refugees’ last stand

Posted by admin on Mar 6th, 2004

Gazette, 6 March 2004
Allison Hanes

Mohamed Cherfi followed in the footsteps of many desperate deportees before him by taking refuge in a Quebec City church last month.But he became the first in the country’s history to be dragged from his sanctuary in handcuffs yesterday. Cherfi, who came to Canada through the United States in 1998, has fought against the deportation of hundreds of his compatriots since a moratorium on repatriation to Algeria was lifted in 2002. After much public pressure, the federal and Quebec governments came to an agreement that has allowed 499 of 513 Algerian claimants to stay since 2002 – or 93 per cent.But Cherfi’s arrest at many of the demonstrations that helped bring about the special arrangement may have hurt his own chanced of being accepted.

Recently, sanctuary on hallowed ground – a tradition that dates to the 4th century – has seen a resurgence, especially in Montreal.

Last weekend, three Palestinians, brothers Khalil and Nabil Ayoub and Nabil’s wife, Therese Boulos Haddad, found a safe harbour at Notre Dame de Grace Church to avoid removal to Lebanon.

Last August, Menen Ayele, an Ethopian mother, and her three children took refuge in Little Burgundy’s Union United Church, to avoid torture and jail in their homeland

A month earlier, Colombians Alvaro Vega, his wife, Mireya, and their daughter, Maria, holed up in Montreal’s St. Andrew-Norwood United Church after their claims for refugee status were refused.

The same month, a 50-year-old Bangladeshi man, Samsu Mia, took up residence in the cramped janitor’s closet of the First Unitarian Congregation in Ottawa.

Earlier in the year, Ololade Labiym sought safety in Calgary’s St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church to avoid returning to Nigeria, where she feared her daughters would be subjected to ritual female genital mutilation.

Last year, Mourad Bourouisa and Yakout Seddiki captured attention when immigration authorities ruled the couple had to leave Canada but their 2-year-old son Ahmed could stay.

After they hid in a church basement for weeks, a special program for Algerian claimants was set up by Quebec and federal immigration officials to speed up resolution of their cases.

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