A child and her family – originally forced to flee their native Hungary for fear of persecution – face rejection and marginalization again, this time in their new home. They thought that they had left racism and arbitrariness behind, along with their family, friends, and possessions; that, despite the pain of leaving, they were ultimately sowing the seeds of a more peaceful future. Jozsef and Timea Pusuma, along with their daughter Lulu, uprooted themselves because they viewed Canada as a place where they can live in peace and prosperity, without fear.
A comparable enthusiasm drove me to Toronto to live and work with refugees in 2009. I joined the Romero House community harbouring a belief that people have an inherent right to seek refuge in other countries when facing oppression. I recognized that Canada, as a signatory of the international Refugee Convention, has promised to uphold these rights; as a Canadian, I was proud of this commitment, and was eager to do what I could to assist in upholding it.
Coincidentally, the Pusumas and I began our new lives in Toronto at around the same time. There are many experiences we share: we have been welcomed by new friends, offered warm hospitality, and begun contributing to our communities.
In recent years, however, Lulu and her parents have been subjected to great suffering. After being failed by an unscrupulous lawyer and subsequently condemned by Canada’s newly draconian refugee determination system, they were slated to be deported back to Hungary. The anti-Roma violence that had forced them to leave in 2009 had not subsided, and as such, returning was not an option. A Toronto congregation, understanding this, offered them “sanctuary” in their church basement. The Pusumas, fully aware that they would likely be contained for a lengthy period of time, accepted this offer.
Their decision is probably puzzling to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, who has imitated his predecessor, Jason Kenney, in brazenly labeling Roma refugees as “bogus” claimants. According to this line of thought, people like the Pusumas are in Canada merely to take advantage of our supposedly ‘bountiful’ welfare and health benefits. However, in defiance of this narrative – having extinguished the pittance of support originally afforded them by our leaders and institutions – the family remains.
The Pusumas are safe, but – after 27 months in sanctuary – increasingly desperate. By forcing them to choose between certain danger in Hungary and uncertain tenure in a church basement, the Canadian government has done a great injustice to the most vulnerable in it’s midst. Most heart wrenching is the fact that five-year-old Lulu is about to spend her third straight birthday in hiding.
Reason for optimism still remains, however. The Law Society of Upper Canada has begun the process of disciplining the Pusumas’ former lawyer for misconduct, which could have important bearing on the family’s status. This process is slow, though, and much more public outrage is needed for authorities to muster the will to act quickly.
This is where we all come in. Take a few minutes looking over freelulu.ca, which outlines the family’s story in greater depth than I have here, placing a special focus on Lulu’s plight. Central to the online support campaign is a publication of letters of support of the family, which both adults and children are invited to write. Please take some time to write to the Pusumas; this has the double effect of encouraging them, and also drawing further attention to their desperate situation. The website also contains a link to a petition to Minister Alexander, which you should also sign.
An even more effective step would be to directly contact the minister’s office, preferably by phone at 613-995-8042.
If we are to create a Canada that reflects values of fairness, justice, and hospitality, we must start by having compassion on the vulnerable among us. In many cases, we have already failed them, but there is still time for reconciliation. Whether we decide to free Lulu speaks volumes to who we are, and what we intend to become.