Deported Roma refugee family receives permission to return to Canada

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Minister John McCallum has granted special permission allowing a Roma family deported to Hungary to return to Canada.

Family deported to Hungary last year after spending 3 years in Toronto church sanctuary

Jozsef Pusuma, his wife Timea Daroczi and their seven-year-old daughter Lulu (not shown) have been given special permission by Immigration and Refugee Minister John McCallum to return to Canada. (CBC)

Immigration and Refugee Minister John McCallum has granted special permission for a deported Roma family to return to Canada.

The decision involving Jozsef Pusuma, his wife Timea Daroczi and their seven-year-old daughter Viktoria (who goes by Lulu) comes after McCallum intervened in their case and granted them ministerial approval to permit them to return and move forward on the path for full permanent residency status.

The news was greeted with gasps of delight and applause Sunday at Windermere United Church in Toronto's west end, where the family lived before they were deported. 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and dedicated citizens can change the world," Rev. Alexa Gilmour told her congregation.

Rev. Alexa Gilmour, pastor at Windermere United Church in Toronto, delivered the news Sunday that the Roma family will be allowed to return to Canada. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

Gilmour had given up her office in the church to accommodate the family when they sought sanctuary there. She still looks after Daroczi's plants and some of Lulu's toys.

"To have three years of resistance and suddenly within three months of a new government was, quite frankly, surprising but delightfully so," she told CBC News.

'My heart is full with gratitude'

The family received the news by both telephone and email late last week. 

Gilmour read a letter of thanks from the family during her Sunday service.

"I have no words … my heart is full to the brim with gratitude. Thank you for all you have done for us, thank you a million times," they wrote.

Liberal MP for Parkdale-High Park Arif Virani spoke to the congregation at Windermere United Church on Sunday. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

"They are absolutely delighted. They are over the moon. Lulu is very excited to see her friends again," said Andrew Brouwer, the family's lawyer, who spoke to Pusuma on Friday.

Brouwer credits McCallum for his direct intervention along with help from the area's newly-elected Liberal MP, Arif Virani.

Virani, who came to Canada from Uganda as an infant and refugee with his family in 1972, called it a sign of Canada's return to its humanitarian roots.

"It's a deserving result for years of advocacy on the part of an individual family," he told CBC News.

Family targeted, attacked

Pusuma and Daroczi were well-known Roma activists in Hungary who worked for Viktoria Mohacsi, a Roma MP in the Hungarian Parliament.

They recorded and documented the rising number of cases of abuse and discrimination against Roma. They fled to Canada in 2009 after Pusuma was attacked by right wing paramilitaries and their lives were threatened.

But their claim for refugee status in Canada was turned down after their Toronto lawyer, Viktor Hohots, was a no-show at their hearing and failed to translate and file key documents to support their case. 

Pusuma, Daroczi and their daughter Lulu fled to Canada in 2009 after Pusuma was attacked by right wing paramilitaries and their lives were threatened.

Hohots pleaded guilty last summer of professional misconduct involving hundreds of Roma refugee claimants. He was fined and suspended by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

For years the family had sought help to stay in Canada.

Their case was supported by prominent community and church leaders from a variety of faiths including former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler.

A petition on behalf of the family drew more than 43,000 signatures along with a children's letter-writing campaign entitled Free Lulu.

The family also won several cases in Federal Court over the denial of their refugee status but the former government would still not allow them to return.

Opens the door for others

Brouwer said while the family's case is unique in that they had been to court successfully several times, the minister's decision could open the door to reconsider hundreds of other cases involving Roma who were denied refugee status in Canada.

Many were also victims of unscrupulous lawyers and were denied due process, he said.

Alexa Gilmour, right, and lawyer Andrew Brouwer stand in Gilmour's office at Windermere United Church, where the family lived while seeking sanctuary. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

"The fact the minister saw fit to intervene is a very good sign we can work with this government to find solutions for that larger community," Brouwer said.

The family is hoping to return to Canada within the next few weeks, according to Brouwer, and with the help of their supporters, they will start over. He said they have already received offers of accommodation and employment.

"They are incredibly resourceful and resilient," Brouwer said. "Jozsef has big dreams and plans and he wants to set up a restaurant and I can tell you from personal experience he is an amazing cook."


Maureen Brosnahan

National reporter with CBC Radio

Maureen is a veteran national reporter for CBC Radio. She joined CBC in Winnipeg and was appointed national reporter in 1991. She has since been the correspondent for national Radio News in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. She is now based in Toronto. She has won numerous awards for her work at CBC covering health and social policy issues.