Saturday, March 24, 2007

Kevin's Canadian dream: '... sleeping like I was in heaven'

Globe and Mail
Kevin Yourdkhani's new year's wish came early.

23 March 2007


On the 13th day of the Iranian new year which began the same day the nineyearold Canadian and his Iranian parents were released from a controversial U.S. immigration detention centre this week it is tradition to tie two blades of grass together, make a wish and throw the knot into a river.

When the blades of grass untie, it is believed the wish will come true.

"I'm already in Canada," he told The Globe and Mail matteroffactly during an hourlong interview at a downtown fastfood restaurant yesterday, swiveling from side to side in his chair. He said he didn't even ask his father, Majid Yourdkhani, for the $100 he usually gets every new year. His mother, Masomeh Alibegi, fed him fries.

The family has been staying at a onestar downtown hotel "I was sleeping like I was in heaven," Kevin said paying $89 for the singlebed room with the cash they had saved up when they lived in Toronto from 1995 to 2005 seeking refugee status. They'll continue to lodge at the hotel until they can get their work permits, which don't automatically come with the renewable, sixmonth temporaryresidence permit they've been granted by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley. The process could take weeks.

"As soon as I have it, I will find a job, any job. Anything to support my family, to pay rent," Mr. Yourdkhani said.

While Canadianborn Kevin said he wants to go back to the same Scarborough school he attended until Grade 3, when the family's asylum case was denied and they were deported to Iran, Mr. Yourdkhani told him that may not be possible. Where they live will depend on the rent.

In response, Kevin started listing off his teachers' names.

Upon arrival in Tehran in 2005, Mr. Yourdkhani said he was taken away from his family to a prison cell, where he was detained, beaten and tortured for six months.

Once he was released, friends helped them connect with a people smuggler in Tehran, who said he would help them get back into Canada. On the last leg of their trip, which had already taken them from Iran to Turkey to Greece to Spain to Guyana, their flight made an unscheduled stop on U.S. soil because of a medical emergency, and they were found to be travelling on fake passports. They had been detained at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor, Tex., since Feb. 12.
The conditions were so bad at the facility, Kevin said, that when he put a piece of cornbread on the table and said he didn't want to eat it, "the captain comes and says, 'This is not your house. If you don't eat it, you don't get anything else.' What kind of rule is that?"

For Mr. Yourdkhani, seeing children punished for three days for running around and playing in the common area was the most shocking.

And the image burned into Ms. Alibegi's mind: the dented imprint of what looked like a fist on the inside of the door to her neighbour's cell. Ms. Alibegi, who did not work outside the home the last time she was in Canada, plans to do so this time around.

"I don't want to stay home any more. I have to get out. If I stay inside, I keep thinking and then I will be crying, crying, crying. I want to forget it all, close that file."

Technically, that file closed at 5:20 a.m. on Wednesday morning nine days after the family received word that they would be issued the temporary residence permit when a guard banged on the door to Mr. Yourdkhani's room at the detention centre.

"They said we're leaving, and to get ready fast, pack everything up. I could not believe it," Mr. Yourdkhani recalled.

With only a blanket to stow away, he ran over to Ms. Alibegi's room and, together, the two of them tried to wake Kevin.

"Even in normal routine, it takes us half an hour to get him out of the bed. He keep saying, 'Let me sleep.' This time, too. But when we told him we're going to Canada, he jumped up, like with a remote control. He was washing his face and ready."

When the three of them stepped out of the facility, formerly a maximumsecurity prison,

Kevin told his mother he wanted to have his shoes glued to the ground when they arrived in Canada so that he would never have to leave again.

"When he said that to me, I couldn't stop crying," Ms. Alibegi said.

Aboard the direct Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Toronto, Mr. Yourdkhani said he was anxious until the pilot announced that they would touching down in Toronto in 36 minutes.

"That's when I knew no matter what happens now, we are in Canada. I keep on hoping the plane does not go to Guyana."

Finally in Canada, the superstitious Ms. Alibegi said that as soon as she can find two blades of grass amidst the melting snow, she's going to make a new year's wish for Canadian citizenship.