IN THE NEWS ~ Long road from Iraq finally ends happily

Long road from Iraq finally ends happily
AT HOME, CHIP MARTIN
THE LONDON FREE PRESS (FINAL), A3, 2010/04/05

A Christian family who feared for their lives in their homeland of Iraq were reunited in London just in time to celebrate Easter.

"We just feel born again," a relieved Tom Sada said on the Easter weekend as he and his wife, Sylva, gave thanks they could celebrate it with her parents, Krikor Stephan, 74, and his wife, Sagheek Alexanian, 71.

Sada, 44, spent the last six years and $20,000 to get his wife's parents Canadian government permission to live in London. The older couple fled the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein in 1994 and had been living in London near Sada. They were seeking refugee status when, in 2004, Canadian officials ordered them to leave.

That started a nightmare of aggravation and costs that ended March 29 when Stephan and Alexanian arrived in London. They had been living in Amman, Jordan for nearly a year while the final bits of official paperwork were completed and they could return to Canada. Jordan was the only country that offered them a visa when they were ordered out of Canada.

Sada said he is pleased the Canadian government has just announced it will speed up similar applications for refugee status.

"It's too late for me, thank you guys," he said.

"I thought Canada could do a better job," admitted the native of Iraq, who said he believed Canada was more enlightened than his homeland.

He thinks Iraq could have done a better job, an amazing revelation for him.

"At least over there you can pay somebody under the table to do things for you," Sada said, half jokingly.

When they were ordered out of Canada in 2004, Stephan and Alexanian consulted a lawyer who suggested they try for "family class" status instead of refugee status. Immigration officials insisted Stephan leave Canada but he feared persecution in Iraq. It was agreed his case would be handled by the Canadian embassy in Damascus, Syria.

But Syria, Sada said, wouldn't allow Stephan entry so he worked with the embassy through its consulate in Jordan, where he had to stay for nearly a year.

Canadian officials in Jordan then insisted on also interviewing Alexanian who was flown over from Canada.

Demands for medical records, police checks and other documents occupied the next several months. Sada, back in Canada, had to rely on an MP in Vancouver where he had moved for a time.

"They kept me in the dark and they keep you in the dark unless you call them," Sada said, noting his MP Peter Julian was a great help penetrating the bureaucracy.

"It was waiting, waiting and more waiting," he said.

Airline fares, fees for documents, travel in the Mideast and the cost of accommodation in Amman all contributed to running up costs.

Ultimately, Sada, a grocery store operator, decided to move back to London from Vancouver because his in-laws preferred London and the cost of living is less.

It's been a long ordeal, he said, but at least it is having a happy ending.

With changes promised to speed refugee applications and reduce costs, at least it means other families won't go through the hoops and heartaches he did.

chip.martin@sunmedia.ca

ILLUS: photo by Derek Ruttan, the London Free Press Family members from left, Krikor Stephan, Sylva Sada, Sagheek Alexanian and Tom Sada are finally reunited in London after the older couple fled Iraq, moved to London but were ordered to leave in 2004.