Ailing Pakistani refugee seeks sanctuary in church
A 57-year-old Pakistani woman who arrived in Montreal as a refugee two years ago has now sought refuge in a Montreal-area church to avoid deportation back home where she says her life and that of her family would be threatened by Muslim extremists.
Khurshid Begum Awan arrived from Lahore in 2011 with her husband and grandson. Her daughter Tahira Malik came here first in 2000 to escape an abusive husband with ties to religious extremists.
After their refugee claim was refused, her husband was deported in April. Awan was to be deported in August but she chose instead to seek sanctuary in an Anglican church.
Awan is also suffering from heart problems and her doctor is recommending against any travel, adding that all the stress is making things worse.
"We have called the media today because we want to stop being afraid," Malik told a news conference.
"My family is my life. When my family is in Pakistan, they are afraid of violence. Now in Canada they are afraid of immigration. In both places, they are suffering and afraid," Malik said.
She broke down in tears, saying the strain is taking its toll on their family now living apart.
"If something happens to my mother, I'll kill myself," she cried.
Awan has applied for permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds.
The family is supported by groups such as the Anglican Diocese of Montreal and the South Asian Women's Community Centre. They are continuing a letter-writing and online campaign to back Awan's application, as well as a bid to bring her husband back here.
They denounce the Harper government's harsher approach of late to the immigration system and the refugee protection program.
"It's to send out a message internationally that refugees shouldn't come to Canada to claim asylum. I think more and more the minister is painting refugees who are patiently waiting in refugee camps abroad as the good refugees and people who are coming to our borders claiming asylum as the bad ones and I think that's really a ridiculous dichotomy," said Cynthia Beaudry of the support committee.
"Not everyone is lucky to even make it to our borders and if they do, we should welcome them with open arms."
Video/photo of Tahira Malik: Shuyee Lee