Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Iranian boy 'very happy' as family wins battle to stay in Canada

Globe and Mail

October 2, 2007

The parents of a Canadian boy who, with them, was held for nearly six weeks at a controversial U.S. immigration facility this year, were granted an "approval in principle" for permanent residence in Canada yesterday.

The decision to allow Kevin Yourdkhani's parents to stay was based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and made in the best interests of their 10-year-old son, their lawyer said.

"Approval in principle is the difficult step to meet and that normally takes two or three years," Andrew Brouwer said. "The remaining step is to do the security, criminality and medical screening ... and I don't anticipate any problems with that."

Majid Yourdkhani and Masomeh Alibegi could become permanent residents as early as next month. "I'm very happy now because my mom and my dad is happy," Kevin said yesterday.

The decision marks a new beginning for the family who, just months ago, had found themselves in international limbo.

Mr. Yourdkhani and Ms. Alibegi initially fled Iran for Canada in 1995 to seek political asylum. In 1997, the couple's only son, Kevin, was born. He attended a Toronto school until Grade 3, when his parents' refugee claim - based on fear of persecution in Iran - was denied, and the family was deported in December, 2005.

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

Once he was released, friends helped the family connect with a people smuggler in Tehran, who said he would help them get back into Canada.

On the last leg of their trip, 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 were held at a Texas detention centre from Feb. 12 to March 21.

The facility was the subject of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the family was being held in "inhumane conditions."

After a flurry of media coverage on the family's situation, including a letter Kevin wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper describing his cell, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley issued the parents a six-month, renewable temporary resident permit, three days after the U.S. government declared it had sufficient reason to believe the family faced a credible risk of persecution if returned to Iran.

Since their return to Canada, Mr. Yourdkhani has been working on a temporary work visa at a pizza parlour. But the approval in principle means he and his wife are eligible to apply for an open work permit, allowing them to work for most employers in Canada while they await final approval for permanent residence.

Meanwhile, Kevin returned to school in September after nearly two years away. But, he said yesterday, children at his old school were taunting him about his family's ordeal, and he had to change schools.

"It wasn't so good. They keep bothering me. They say, 'Kevin, you was really a bad guy? You was in jail? What did you do? What did your parents [do]?' " he said.

He says he is happy at his new school and likes his teacher.

"It's way better. Nobody knows about ... anything that happened. I can relax a little bit. I have got some new friends."