Tunisian refugee who hid in Shediac church becomes a free man

A Tunisian refugee who fled religious persecution in his country and hid in a Shediac church for more than two years is finally a free man.

Mohamed Amine Maazaoui fled his country after converting from Islam to Christianity

Mohamed Amine Maazaoui, 31, hid inside a Shediac church for more than two years. (CBC News )

A Tunisian man who fled his country out of fear of persecution for converting to Christianity, and who took refuge in a Shediac church, is now a free man.

Mohamed Amine Maazaoui, 31, hid in the church for more than two years, facing the threat of deportation while his case sat in legal limbo.

In September, dozens of Shediac residents marched in hopes of helping speed up his case.

Now, Akram Ben Salah, executive director of the New Brunswick refugee clinic, has confirmed that Maazaoui's permanent resident application was approved Oct. 25.

"I cannot tell you the joy that I saw in his eyes," said Ben Salah. "We cried that day. We were all happy, all the community that helped.

"He couldn't believe it, He told me he could not sleep for three days or four days. He was waiting for this decision for more than six years now."

Maazaoui fled Tunisia in 2011, after converting from Islam to Christianity. He eventually found refuge at the Shediac Bay Community Church in May 2015.

Ben Salah said Maazaoui has been living with a family from the church since becoming a free man.

He joked that Maazaoui had become so unused to the outside world, the first thing he did after being granted his freedom was get a cold.

"He was always used to staying in the church," said Ben Salah. "Now he's just enjoying his freedom."

Maazaoui, who has a bachelor's degree in IT network computers and has helped the church redesign its website, is planning to stay in New Brunswick, according to Ben Salah, who is working on getting him a work permit now.

Ben Salah had applied in March for Maazaoui to become a permanent resident on a humanitarian compassion basis.

The application was granted in principle, meaning Maazaoui still has to pass a medical and criminal check, among other things, so it could take another six months or so before all the paperwork is complete.