'As a father, I can try': Asylum-seeking dad, daughter appeal refugee claim denial

A father who walked across the U.S. border into Manitoba with his eight-year-old daughter last year has made an appeal to have his case reheard after an adjudicator rejected his refugee claim in January.

Father says he and his family are in danger of violence, discrimination if deported

Eight-year-old Kashaf Zahra was born with Poland syndrome, a birth defect that causes under-developed chest muscles and webbed fingers. Her refugee claim, and her father's, were denied in January. (Supplied)

A father who walked across the U.S. border into Manitoba with his eight-year-old daughter last year has made an appeal to have his case reheard after an adjudicator rejected his refugee claim in January.

​Zahid Abbas says if he and his daughter Kashaf go back to Pakistan, they'll be in danger.

Documents from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada say Abbas told his Nov. 22 refugee hearing that he and his wife are from different sects of Islam.

Abbas, who was a police officer in Pakistan, said he is Shia and his wife is Sunni. The difference wasn't a problem in Islamabad, where they met in 2003, but Abbas's family was outraged when he and his wife moved back to his hometown of Multan in 2009.

In April 2016, he said members of his family attacked his wife while she was pregnant. Abbas testified the beating was so severe it caused his wife to miscarry.

"They killed my baby when she was pregnant," Abbas said in an interview with CBC News.

He and his wife have two daughters. The older daughter, Kashaf Zahra, was born with Poland syndrome — a birth defect that causes the chest muscles on one side of the body to under-develop, and webs fingers on the same side. Documents state that Abbas's family "saw these medical issues as being additional proof of why mixed marriage is wrong, and wish to harm the child."

In January 2017, Kashaf was accepted as a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Fla. She and her father flew there in March 2017, and she received preliminary treatment while Abbas's wife and youngest daughter went to Islamabad.

After treatment, Abbas consulted an American lawyer, then crossed the border into Manitoba with Kashaf in August 2017.

'No substantial grounds'

Several reasons for rejection are given in documents from the refugee board.

The board states that the family's "removal to Pakistan would not subject them personally to a risk to their lives or to a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment," and that "there are no substantial grounds to believe that their removal to Pakistan would subject them personally to a danger of torture."

One reason for this, the documents state, is that it seems plausible Islamabad would be a safe place to relocate.

"If [his wife and youngest daughter] have been living in that city since March 2017 apparently without incident, in the absence of [Abbas], who is a deterrent to attack, it is reasonable that they should continue to be unharmed there after the claimants return," the documents state.

Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas has taken on the case and is appealing the rejection. He argued relocating wouldn't help the family's situation — and advising them to do so is an acknowledgement by the board that the threat they face is real.

"These family members are concerned about the facts, not about the location," said Matas. "This logic that you can get away from the problem just by moving … is not real. It's a hypothetical, but it's not a reality."

'Callous and insensitive'

The refugee board adjudicator also questioned several aspects of Abbas's testimony, calling the evidence regarding his wife's religion "dubious" and suggesting Kashaf would not be in substantial danger because of her condition.

Matas said the appeal will include a document, which was obtained after the hearing, proving Abbas's wife is Sunni Muslim.

The adjudicator also noted that Abbas waited six weeks to supplement his original claim with testimony about the assault that he says caused his wife to miscarry.

"It is unclear how such a drastic event would be omitted from the original narrative," the adjudicator wrote.

In his appeal document, Matas says the adjudicator "mischaracterized" Abbas's testimony in some places, and neglected to consider evidence presented to him in others.

He points to Abbas's explanation, which he offered to the board, that he waited to add the detail about his wife's assault because he needed to verify all aspects of it. Otherwise, he risked being faulted for reporting the incident incorrectly.

Matas also balked at the adjudicator's suggestion Kashaf would be safe in Pakistan. He said evidence from Pakistan indicates prospects for young, disabled girls are "bleak in the extreme," and called the adjudicator's reasoning otherwise "insensitive and callous."

"It is a trivialization of the risks the child appellant faces."

Girl thriving in Winnipeg

Meanwhile, Abbas said Kashaf has gained confidence while attending classes at Sister MacNamara School.

"In Pakistan, she was afraid to go to school. Everyone was bullying her, teasing her," he said.

"In that kind of environment, children don't become confident. But here, she's feeling much better. I can see the difference."

If the appeal isn't successful, Abbas said he will be forced to go back to Pakistan and divorce his wife.

"If we need to go back, it will be a mess and big trouble for us," he said.

"I'm fighting to provide them a peaceful atmosphere and a good life. As a father, I can try."

With files from Tessa Vanderhart