Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Winnipeg Free Press: Refugee family's children allowed to attend school; Leave church for first time in six months

Read the original article HERE.

THE children of a Pakistani family threatened with deportation have been freed from the cooped-up confines of sanctuary in a church and allowed to attend school.

"The kids were delighted to be in a car and off site for the first time in six months," said Crescent-Fort Rouge United Church Rev. Barb Janes. A church volunteer accompanied one of the children on a class trip to the Festival du Voyageur on Friday.

"He had a great time tearing around outside with other kids his age," said Janes.

Hassan Raza and his family received a deportation order in August and they and their six children -- two of whom were born in Canada -- were being sent back to Pakistan, which they fled nine years ago because of sectarian violence.

Raza was forced to give up his full-time job at Winnipeg's APR Industries, a firm that makes heating equipment, and the family had to leave their St. Vital apartment and move into the church, where they have now stayed for more than six months.

The church members had worried that the four school-age children might be arrested if they left the church to attend school, and they sought assurances from Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day's office.
Click here to find out more!
"Our folks had been writing letters to Stockwell Day asking for his permission for the kids to go to school," said Janes. Day's office finally wrote back.

"They said they're not in the practice of apprehending children," said Janes.

When the go-ahead came from Day, the church members contacted their area MLA, NDP Tim Sale, who contacted Education Minister Peter Bjornson.

Provincial education officials met with school division officials who paved the way for the four school-age children to return to the school they had attended in the Louis Riel division before their parents were ordered deported last summer, said Janes.

"Decisions adults make about their immigration status shouldn't impinge on the children's right to go to school," she said.

The family's status in Canada remains in peril, though.

The Razas' immigration case is the subject of a review on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and is before Citizenship and Immigration officials in Winnipeg, said Heather Macdonald, the United Church of Canada's refugee program co-ordinator.

The Razas have a strong case as a productive family whose children have been raised in North America and face sectarian violence if they're sent back to Pakistan, Macdonald said from Vancouver Monday.
The Razas would likely have a stronger case if the church that gave them sanctuary was in a Conservative riding, she said.

"If the political will was there, it could be resolved," said Macdonald.

"Any member of the governing party who can get involved would make a difference," said Macdonald.

Crescent-Fort Rouge United Church, which is housing the Raza family, is in Liberal MP Anita Neville's riding. In October, Neville wrote to then-Immigration minister Monte Solberg asking him to grant the Razas landed immigrant status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. There's since been a cabinet shuffle but no action on the Razas' immigration case.

The children are attending a school in Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge's riding. Neither he nor Winnipeg's other two Conservative MPs -- Joy Smith and Steven Fletcher -- were available to comment.

"Without political will, we're stymied," said Macdonald.

The children's parents are thrilled their children can return to school, and the volunteers -- who've been teaching and are now driving them -- are happy for them as well, said Janes.

Not so happy is the Raza kids' younger brother, Hassan, who is still too young to go to school and has to stay in the church with his parents and little sister, Seema.

"When (volunteer) Diane Gillis arrived Friday morning to take them to school, the three-year-old was all dressed with his backpack, ready to go," said Janes. "He refused to believe he wasn't going to school, too.
"They left him sobbing in his parents arms."