Roma family living in Toronto church exhausted from living in exile

A Roma family — exhausted from living in exile in a Toronto church as they await a deportation hearing — speaks to CBC’s Metro Morning today on International Roma Day about fears of venturing outside and the danger that would await if they are deported.

International Roma Day focusses on issues of discrimination for Roma communities

Fighting to stay

10 years ago
Duration 1:43
A Roma family fights to stay in Canada after living for more than two years in a church basement.

The six-year-old daughter of a Roma couple has spent more than one-third her life at a Toronto church where her family lives in exile.

Jozsef Pusuma and Timea Daroczi, and their daughter, Viktoria, also known as “Lulu," fled Hungary in 2009 following what they describe as an attack because of their Roma ethnicity.

Pusama worked as a political activist and researcher for Viktoria Mohacsi — a prominent Roma and former member of the European Parliament.

He said his activism and ethnicity made Hungary a “very, very dangerous” place for him and his family.

Their case was heard in 2010 and was denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

For more than two years, the family has lived at a Toronto church. Their days consist of reading, doing tasks around the church and trying to keep busy, but they are exhausted from a life of exile and fear arrest if they go outside.

“[Lulu] is six years old and she knows everything because she is a very smart girl,” Pusuma told CBC’s Matt GallowayTuesday on International Roma Day — a day that celebrates Roma culture and traditions with a focus the on drawing attention to discrimination directed at Roma communities.

Pusama says that his daughter isn’t able to go to school, but she attends daily dance classes at the church and meets friends that way. Yet, she always asks why their entire life must take place inside that building.

“It’s a very hard time for me because my daughter always has questions, why do we live in a church? Why can’t we go outside?”

He says that he has to tell his daughter that they are waiting in the church because Canada is a safe country, whereas Hungary — for their family — is not.

However, the Canadian government disagrees.

Lawyer could have ruined chances

Canada lists Hungary as a safe country, which has been making it extremely difficult for Roma people to gain refugee status despite claims of ethnic discrimination and safety concerns.

Jozsef Pusuma, Timea Daroczihas and their six-year old daughter have lived at a Toronto church for more than two years. (CBC)
​Pusama says being Roma and particularly being a noted Roma activist has made him the target of violence and fears for his family’s safety should they be forced to go back to Hungary.

According to his website, the family was attacked by four members of the Hungarian Guard in July 2009.

Although their case was heard and denied — Mary Jo Leddy, founder of Romero House, a home for refugees — says the “unfair” particulars of this case are “disturbing and compelling.”

The family was represented by a Viktor Hohots, a Toronto immigration lawyer now at the centre of disciplinary proceedings at the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Pusama is one of more than a dozen complainants who allege that Hohots offered consulting services to assist them through the refugee process here in Canada, but then filed inaccurate and incomplete work therefore severely impairing their chances of making a successful refugee claim.

Leddy says that some Roma cases are still considered for refugee status and that Pusama’s activism and work for Romarights would make him and his family good candidates, but she says that Hohots contributed to ruining their chance.

“They had the misfortune of having a lawyer that has now been charged with misconduct by the law society,” she said.

“The lawyer never showed up and had never submitted the documentation of their activism.”

Leddy and others who have submitted a petition to are requesting that the Minister of Immigration grant the family temporary resident status.

“It would allow them to stay in the country pending the outcome of the law society complaint against the lawyer,” she said. “That would allow them to have a fair refugee hearing and I think all they are asking for is fairness.”