Technicality Results in Deportation of Nigerian Family, Lawyer Says

Six years ago, Winifred Agimelen escaped from the country where she was kidnapped with her children, faced the threat of genital mutilation and death, as well as lost sight of her husband—who may or may not still be alive. On Sunday, a technicality sent her back.

Agimelen fled to Canada in 2008 and has been waiting for proper documentation to be able to officially call the country home ever since.

But the family of four boarded a 7 p.m. flight to Nigeria Sunday at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport after she was given the Sept. 15 deportation date.

Having filed documents for both refugee status and a sponsorship from her new husband, Agimelen was told she had to leave because her refugee claim was rejected, her lawyer said.

“She had filled out the forms alone, she hadn’t done it properly and hadn’t provided enough proof [of risk in her home country],” Angela Potvin told a crowd of reporters at the airport.

“It’s a technicality,” she said, explaining that had Agimelen made the sponsorship request first, she wouldn’t be at the airport at that moment.

Groups of people from Agimelen’s community joined her and her children at the airport as members of the media mixed and buzzed around them.

They held up placards that read, “Immigration Canada, what about our family values?” and “The most humanitarian country in the world, why this deportation!!!” above the young mother as she spoke to journalists. She appeared tired and her words were barely audible over the noise of the crowd.

“I’m afraid for the life of my children,” she could be heard saying in an interview with TVA.

“It’s very dangerous for them, and also for me, as well,” Agimelen had told The Link three days before, noting she has no place to stay in Nigeria and can’t return to her hometown, Uromi, because she may be sought out by the people responsible for her family’s alleged kidnapping.

She also mentioned now dangers present in Nigeria—the recent Ebola outbreak and the strong presence of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.

Agimelen was in the country as a refugee for her first five years in Canada. Then, in October 2013, she was offered the pre-removal risk assessment, a test that determines, among other things, whether there is a specific risk towards your person if you return to your native country.

She got married afterwards to a Nigerian immigrant, who applied to sponsor her, but was denied because he was four months short of having spent five years in the country as a citizen— the required amount of time to be able to sponsor a newcomer.

Photo Verity Stevenson

Potvin said they re-applied for sponsorship in February 2014 and have been waiting since then for a response on whether they, as a couple, are eligible.

Potvin added that she would have to withdraw that application because the couple hadn’t had the chance to go through the first step yet.

If they had, the application would still stand and after the 21-month period it takes to process a Nigerian request she could return to Canada, Nancy Caron, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada communications advisor, told The Link.

Caron refuted Potvin’s claims that had Agimelen filed for the sponsorship before the pre-removal risk assessment, she may not have been deported.

“The fact that she applied after does not determine whether she can or can’t stay,” Caron said.

Later, Potvin explained that if the sponsor is approved, the spouse can remain in the country, pending the final decision.

A publicly available federal court judgment filed in 2011 granted Agimelen’s application for judicial review of an October 2010 decision that had rejected her refugee claim.

The 2010 decision cited the fact that she had not fled the city she was being persecuted in to another city within Nigeria, but instead escaped outside the country, to Ghana.

The decision also noted that her persecutor—the man who had kidnapped her and her children and threatened her daughter with female genital mutilation and “sacrificing” her—had not inquired about her whereabouts since she left the country and had probably lost interest in trying to find her.

The documents also say that she failed to provide proof that there was a threat specific to her and that she could seek help from non-governmental organizations.

Now that Agimelen is back in Nigeria, her only hope of a life in Canada is to re-apply for citizenship status in the country, which would cost her $5,000 in addition to having to pay the $8,000 it cost Canada to deport her, Potvin explained.

If Agimelen stays in Nigeria, Canada picks up the bill for having sent her back, but if she returns, the debt is hers.

It’s the second deportation case Potvin, a general immigration lawyer, has taken on, but she said she plans on doing more.

“I find them heartbreaking and hard—I think they’re important,” she said, adding that she believed everyone in a similar situation and faced with deportation had a legitimate reason to stay.

“They’re extremely difficult, but somebody’s got to do it.”

Mimi Nyanjwala, a friend of Agimelen, was at the airport to see her off and protest her deportation. She said she only heard of the mother’s removal the day before.

“I was short of words—I didn’t know what to do. I called her and I was crying all night and praying for her all night,” she said.

“I hope, I hope they change their minds.”

Potvin said she hasn’t heard from Agimelen since her deportation.

Video by Shaun Michaud