Supporters of two Nigerian students who have been evading authorities by hiding in Regina churches were planning a national day of action Monday.
Victoria Ordu and Ihouma Amadi were ordered deported last year after they violated their student visas by working for two weeks at a Wal-Mart. The two had been studying at the University of Regina, Canada.
According to a report by the Canadian Press, supporters of the women say they’ll blitz Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s office with phone calls and faxes as part of the protest.
Sitting inside a church, Ordu and Amadi start as a prairie wind rattles the front door.
Ordu glances over, eyes wary, before flicking towards the window at the back of the church she now calls home.
Sunshine streams through the glass, but that’s the only taste of the outside world the two girls have been able to get since June 19, when they opted to seek sanctuary in the church.
The fear of being found by the Canada Border Services Agency and deported back home to Nigeria hangs over their heads – all because they worked for two weeks at Wal-Mart.
They have spent each day hoping Canadian Federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney – the only one who can change their fate – will grant them pardon.
The daily stress of it has, they say, been “hell.”
U of R President Vianne Timmons has visited them at the church and the school has contacted the federal government, throwing its support behind the students’ plea to stay in Canada and complete their education.
Amadi and Ordu have also written letters to Kenney, but no one has had a response. And so, they wait.
“This is a small mistake we made, and now everything is at risk,” Ordu says, clasping her shaking hands in her lap.
“It doesn’t make any sense. They’re looking for us like we’ve killed someone. We’re just students at university … but it’s like we’re running away and living in fear every day.”
As part of their visas, international students like Ordu – who is studying theatre arts – and Amadi – international studies – are able to work on campus.
Both in Canada on full scholarships paid for by their government, Ordu and Amadi went to Service Canada and got their Social Insurance Numbers when they arrived in 2010, ending up working at the university.
Last year, Amadi found a part-time job at Wal-Mart and Ordu at an agency that does demonstrations at the store.
Both were under the misapprehension their SINs allowed them to work outside U of R. Ordu quit after two weeks, as soon as she found out that wasn’t the case.
Amadi discovered her mistake during her second week on the job – and was led away from her till in handcuffs by two CBSA agents.
“They led me through the store, in front of everyone, and all the customers were looking at me like ‘What have you done?'” she recalls, looking at the floor. “I just felt so embarrassed.”
Kay Adebogun is a Regina immigration consultant who has taken on their case pro bono. “Why go to that level of force?” he says.
“Why parade her out of there like she’s a criminal?”
Barb Pollock, U of R spokeswoman, says while the school respects the fact laws have to be upheld, it is trying to advocate a reconsideration of the girls’ case.
“We think that the penalty, perhaps, is a bit severe for the crime,” she says.
“Albeit that laws have been contravened, in light of what they have done to contravene the law, we would like them to have an opportunity to complete their education with us … (and) we think it is a harsh penalty to be deported.”
Pollock says the university has written to Kenney but is yet to receive an indication when it might receive a decision from the minister.
Both students say they admitted their mistake right away, but think the CBSA’s decision to deport them – which went to an admissibility hearing – is an over-reaction.
“It’s a huge deal to finish school, come back (to Nigeria) and help the country,” Amadi says.
“Now to think we lose three years of our lives because of a small mistake? If there was a fine, a warning, that would be more reasonable. I just wish they could look at this from a human point of view.”
Pollock agrees the case demonstrates how important it is for international students to understand Canadian laws.
“We have to make sure our students really understand what it means to come here and go to school – what the opportunities are and, at the same time, what the limits are,” she says.
“The fact something may not have been clear, you can be assured we’re making that very clear with our incoming students now.”
Adebogun would like to see a reversal in the decision to deport Ordu and Amadi, but he also thinks there are bigger issues at play with how the two were treated.
Of particular concern, he says, is the fact both students were asked by CBSA workers for names of other Nigerian students who were working and even if they knew anybody in a gang.
“They agree they did something wrong, but they should have a second chance,” Adebogun says.
CBSA could not provide a comment but is expected to provide information on the case later.