Motherhood issue: Federal gov't urged to halt deportations that separate moms from children

CBC News

Andrea Huncar · CBC News · Posted: Oct 10, 2022

When a deportation order was issued to Halima Abdi three months ago, the Edmonton woman went into hiding — living apart from her husband and three Canadian-born children — in hopes of avoiding a more drastic separation.   

Sali Mohamed, another Edmonton mother, is familiar with the heartbreaking situation Abdi is going through, having spent almost four years separated from her husband and two children before her immigration application was approved. 

Now Mohamed and other community advocates are urging the federal government to halt Abdi's deportation to Kenya before her relationship with her children is irrevocably damaged. 

"I don't want any mother to be in this situation because it's sad and very painful," Mohamed says.

Halima Abdi: No tears left

Halima Abdi flew from Kenya to the United States then walked across the Canadian border on a cold morning in February 2017. She was fleeing the extra-judicial killings of ethnic Somalis, which she says claimed the life of her brother and forced her family into hiding.

But Canadian immigration authorities at the time concluded her life was not at risk and rejected both her refugee claim and pre-removal risk assessment.

"Unfortunately she did not have the equitable resources to truly articulate her story when she was writing the refugee claim," said Dunia Nur, president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC), which is helping ensure Abdi now has adequate legal representation.

In Edmonton, her path crossed with Fowsi Abdi Yusuf, who she'd known in Kenya. The two married in 2018 and applied for her spousal sponsorship application. They have three children under the age of four, Mohamed, Mukhtar and Mubarak.

On June 28, the 32-year-old was ordered to board a plane to return to Kenya and she went into hiding. There is a warrant out for her arrest.

Nur and other advocates say that, for the wellbeing of her children, Abdi should be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds while her spousal application is processed.

Abdi is determined to stay at least until her oldest son recovers from a nasal and throat surgery that is scheduled for Oct. 24.

"Whatever it takes, I have to be there at the hospital," said Abdi, who talked to CBC News earlier this week at an Alberta Avenue area park, accompanied by her advocates, her husband and their children.

It was her first time seeing her family in three months and the toll of their separation was evident.

Mubarak, who is nearly two, shied away from his mother, instead reaching for his aunt and calling her hooyo — the Somali word for mother.

"I cried for three months when I was hiding," Abdi said. "So the tears have all dried away." 

Sali Mohamed: Long-distance parenting

Sali Mohamed is living with the fallout of the deportation that separated her from her children.

In January 2018 at the Edmonton airport, she bid a tearful goodbye to her husband and children, who were five and seven at the time, and was then deported back to Niamey, the capital city of Niger.

Like Abdi, Mohamed had a spousal sponsorship application in process, which was eventually approved.

Suspicious airport authorities in Niamey questioned why a person who had lived in Canada for 11 years would be sent back, Mohamed recalled. She said she was held for four days, forced to pay off several officials and spent 11 months fighting to get her documents back.

In September 2021, she returned to Canada after years of parenting as best she could from 10,000 kilometres away while her husband, Inoussa Aouedi, juggled household duties and worked nights full-time.

She called throughout the day to make sure  the children, Yusuf and Yasmina, were eating, doing their homework and going to bed on time under the watch of a babysitter. The phone calls did little to ease her worry when her family came down with COVID-19.

"I'm not close with my children like before," Mohamed told CBC News. "Yusuf sometimes asks me  'Mom why did you leave me at five years and now you come back? You changed everything.'"

System overhaul needed

Mohamed's community advocate, Ibrahim Karidio, says there should be an overhaul of the immigration and deportation system to stop criminalizing vulnerable new Canadians facing social challenges.

"These are not criminal cases," said Karidio. "These are all just people, families trying to live together, trying to raise a family, trying to contribute to Canadian society." 

The Canadian Border Services Agency told CBC News it always considers the best interests of the child before deportation occurs but added "the agency has a legal obligation to remove all foreign nationals and permanent residents that are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act." 

Karidio said the cost to the children, families, community and even the system far outweighs the benefit of deportation. He believes the federal government owes Mohamed's children compensation, support and an apology.

The children are now both receiving counselling, he said. 

"These children are Canadian-born children. It was the time when they most needed their parents to be able to mature and develop and they didn't get the opportunity to be supported, " Karidio said. 

"How will they heal? This is going to be very expensive for society, for everybody, to get the children moving forward again."

Nur noted that the federal government is putting mechanisms in place to address the immigration backlog as it deals with COVID-19, Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine.

"However, what we are requesting is that refugees of African descent don't fall through the cracks and a conscious effort be made not to classify those fleeing conflict into deserving and undeserving categories," she said.