The Current

'The government was our parents': Abdoul Abdi's sister says Somali refugee failed by Canadian foster system

Fatouma Abdi says it was the government's responsibility to ensure her brother received Canadian citizenship, given that he grew up in state care. Without it, he faces deportation.
Abdoul Abdi faces deportation back to the country he was fleeing, Somalia, after being convicted of aggravated assault. (Submitted by Fatouma Abdi)

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Abdoul Abdi came to Canada as a six-year-old refugee, fleeing Somalia with his sister and two aunts.

Because he never acquired Canadian citizenship, Abdoul is facing deportation after being convicted of aggravated assault. 

His sister, Fatouma Abdi, says the Canadian government is to blame for Abdoul's case, considering he grew up under the permanent care of the state.

Fatouma Abdi (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Lacking an education 

Fatouma tells The Current that she and her brother were taken from their aunts' custody after the two women unknowingly broke the law by taking Fatouma and Abdoul out of school.

"Me and my brother faced a lot of bullying and abuse because we were from a different culture and we didn't speak the language … and they pulled us out of school," Fatouma tells host Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"No one really sat down with my aunts to explain the laws or how Canada works — and that kids have to be in school."

Their aunts tried to regain custody in the courts but lost, and the children grew up in groups homes and foster care. 

Fatouma was able to escape a particularly bad foster care placement after rallying support from her teachers, but Abdoul was forced to stay in the abusive environment for about two and a half years.

"He said it was horrible — it was basically hell. They physically, emotionally — everything — abused him," Fatouma recalls.

After leaving that home, Abdoul bounced around — moving 31 times in total. 

Abdoul Abdi and his sister spent large swaths of time away from each other while bouncing around foster care. (Submitted by Benjamin Perryman)


Neither Fatouma nor Abdoul received their Canadian citizenship while in child protective services.

"I never knew as a kid or teenager that I wasn't a citizen or that I needed it," says Fatouma. 

"I consider both of us as Canadian citizens ...  We were placed in permanent care meaning the government was our parents … It was their responsibility to figure out our paperwork — to do our paperwork as children. They failed to do that …  my brother is facing the consequence of getting deported which I think is really unfair."

"My aunts both have Canadian citizenship and we don't."

The situation is not uncommon and given the seriousness of the injustice involved the fact that it's happening to any young person is highly concerning.- Julia Huys, a street youth legal services lawyer 

"Not An Outlier" 

Lawyer Julia Huys with Justice for Children and Youth, a Legal Aid Ontario clinic that provides legal representation to Ontario youth, says Abdoul's case is not uncommon for refugee children.

"I can certainly say it's not an outlier. The situation is not uncommon and given the seriousness of the injustice involved the fact that it's happening to any young person is highly concerning," Huys tells The Current

"Over the years our clinic has seen many cases where this is happening — where young people who are here as permanent residents are taken into care by a child welfare agency and later on find themselves subject to removal proceedings."

Last year Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada started accepting applications from children under the age of 18 to apply for citizenship on their own behalf. However, there are still challenges with this process says Huys.

"They have to explain the situation — why they do not have a parent or guardian signing off with them. You also need to have a willing child welfare agency that's able to do it. Another major issue is that the fee to apply for citizenship for children is the same as adults if they're applying on their own behalf. This is upwards of $600 which is an immense sum for a young person."

With respect to Abdoul Abdi's case, Huys says the state should take responsibility and allow him to stay.

"Mr. Abdi really is a Canadian child. He grew up here and he's served his sentence like any Canadian child would. If he were Canadian we would give him the opportunity of rehabilitation — which is not happening here."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page — including hearing from immigration and refugee lawyer, Julie Taub.

This segment was produced by John Chipman and Kori Sidaway.