BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE
Supporters were preparing to sing songs and express hope at a benefit concert held last Friday night at Rose City Kids, in Welland, to keep the Nigerian Ogunkoya refugee family here in Canada.
The event aimed to raise funds to pay the family’s legal fees, estimated at $20,000, noted Sonya Wierenga, Executive Director and one of the founders of Rose City Kids. John Langendoen, of Pelham is another founder of the faith-based organization, which assists youth, teens and their families.
Wierenga said she has never been involved with an issue as problematic as a refugee family on the verge of possible deportation. She admits it has been difficult, as it involves dealing with many levels of government, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and legal matters.
The first lawyer for the Ogunkoya family was fired, and replaced by a Toronto immigration lawyer, but the legal fees are already about $11,000 to date, Wierenga said.
The Ogunkoya family arrived in Quebec from the U.S. in January 2018. Morufat, the mother, arrived with her three children, Victor, 16, Hephzibah, 14, and Rejoice, 10, from Nigeria. They claimed asylum after facing religious persecution for becoming Christian and recanting Islam.
In an earlier interview with the Voice, Morufat asserted that her father is well connected with extremist Muslim clerics, and has made threats against her and her family’s life. While there are accounts from several Christian-based organizations of Boko Haram, a Muslim extremist group, attacking churches in regions of Nigeria, the government there downplays the violence. However, Morufat told the Voice she fears a threat to her family if she is forced to return home.
Currently the government in Canada disagrees, and her lawyer has stated that Morufat was likely to have received a deportation order this Tuesday, after the Voice went to press.
Through Rose City Kids, a petition of 30,000 signatures was gathered to keep the Ogunkoya family in Canada, apparently to no avail. Supporters of the family recently picketed an immigration office in Toronto. Several representatives of Rose City Kids also went to a recent Liberal rally in Niagara-on-the-Lake to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and hand him a letter on the Ogunkoya case. Wierenga said the Prime Minister agreed to read it, but subsequent attempts to get a response from Trudeau’s office have been futile.
When asked how Morufat is handling the bleak scenario, Wierenga replied, “Not well.”
The family is “scared out of their minds,” said Wierenga, adding that Morufat no longer wants to talk with the press. Their lawyer has advised Morufat not to tell immigration officers at the next meeting about any rallies or protests, because if they suspect that Morufat is desperate and may go underground, immigration will detain her “on the spot.”
From he Canadian government’s perspective, because Morufat and her family landed in the U.S. prior to coming to Canada, she is being denied refugee asylum. One of Canada’s rules regarding refugee claimants seeking asylum is that a person can’t seek asylum here because one may have been denied refugee status in the U.S.
Those who may wish to support the family’s effort to stay in Canada will find more information at www.rosecitykids.com