Canadian UUs give sanctuary to 3
by Jane Greer
In a bold move, two Unitarian Universalist congregations in Canada, one a 500-member church in Ontario and the other a 30-member fellowship in Quebec, began providing sanctuary to three immigrants facing government expulsion this summer.
Samsu Mia, a Bangladeshi, has been lodged at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, Ontario, since July 2. Mia came to Canada in 1995 to work as a domestic aide for his country’s high commission. He reports that he was physically abused and denied his salary. In 1998 he fled the embassy and petitioned to become a political refugee. Mia was permitted to stay in Canada until his case was heard. After the court denied Mia refugee status, he began a round of appeals. When these failed, and an expulsion date of July 15 was set, Mia requested sanctuary at First Unitarian and the church complied.
A Colombian father and daughter, German and Doris (their last names have been withheld), received sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church of North Hatley, Quebec. Both had petitioned to become political refugees after facing persecution and death threats in Colombia. After exhausting the appeals process, they too faced imminent expulsion. A former ministerial intern working at the Montreal Refugee Center heard about the pair’s case and approached the board of the North Hatley congregation requesting permission for the couple to receive sanctuary. After a flurry of phone calls among board members the church agreed and the pair moved in the following day.
Three other churches in Canada are currently providing sanctuary for refugees. These churches along with the two UU congregations are part of a growing interfaith coalition work-ing on behalf of refugees in Canada.
Both churches are intent on providing sanctuary for as long as it takes to procure a favorable ruling for their guests. For Mia, Doris, and German, this could mean winning at least a temporary stay of removal, along with a reexamination of their cases.
“First Unitarian will stand by Mr. Mia for as long as it takes
to get justice and fair treatment,” writes the Rev. Brian Kopke,
its minister. The North Hatley church is equally committed to Doris and
German. “They’ve become part of our church family,”
says North Hatley minister the Rev. Carole Martignacco. “If you’re
asking, do I put my life between theirs and a return to Colombia, I do.”