By Rev. Barb Janes, Crescent-Ft. Rouge United Church, Winnipeg
It takes a village . . .
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church is tickled to announce that the Raza family, who lived in sanctuary in the church from August 3, 2006 to February 29, 2008, has been granted Permanent Resident status in Canada. Our deep gratitude to legal counsel, Ken Zaifman (Zaifman Immigration Lawyers), Canadian Border Service Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Manitoba Department of Labor and Immigration for finding a solution that balanced the circumstances of the Raza family and the requirements of the Immigration Act.
It has been an amazing journey for both the congregation and this family of eight – our thank you list is a long one. The members of Crescent Fort Rouge United worked diligently and persistently, as did many community members. Neighbouring churches and congregations across Canada offered financial, spiritual and moral support. Volunteers of many religions and of no religion generously stepped up to support the Raza family. Terry Borys of the Louis Riel School Division and then Minister of Education, Citizenship and Youth, the Hon. Peter Bjornson ensured that the school-aged children could return to classes at St. George School. Our then Member of Parliament, Anita Neville, visited the family numerous times, and kept the matter before the public, as did our MLA, Jennifer Howard. Deborah Gray, a Winnipegger with a big heart, made a wonderful contribution to publicize the cause. During the time the Razas were in the church, we were honoured with visits from and even a prayer service with members of Winnipeg’s Muslim community. Local musicians generously gave of their talents for a fund-raising rally.
The family sought sanctuary to avoid deportation under fear of sectarian violence in Pakistan, and for 18 challenging months the church was their benevolent prison. Parents Hassan and Kausar and the four oldest children – Rubab, Mohsin, Zain and Farva – faced potential deportation if they left the church property. (The two youngest, Mahssam and Seema, are Candian citizens.) The church’s boardroom was given over to the family as their living quarters, the second-floor kitchen became Kausar’s domain, and the Upper Hall and Nursery became make-shift classroom spaces until the children were granted permission to return to St. George School. Volunteers served as teachers, grocery-shoppers, nurses, lobbyists, security guards, language teachers, media-liaisons, fun-raisers and fund-raisers. After the family achieved Temporary Resident status and Kausar was accepted into Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program (thanks to Albert El Tassi of Peerless Garments), the family secured housing and began the transition back into the community. Many volunteers have continued to be in contact with the Razas, some as family friends, others running a homework club for the children.
The day the Raza family made their frightened way to Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, the baby of the family, Seema, had her first birthday. Today, she is a chatty member of her kindergarten class in the public school system. Kausar and Hassan both have jobs. Life is returning to normal, both for the family and for the congregation.
It has been an amazing journey of faith, hope, and persistence, and we at Crescent Fort Rouge United again offer our thanks to the “village” that worked so hard and gave so generously.