Kelly Egan: Compassion a foreign word to immigration bureaucrats
By Kelly Egan, Ottawa Citizen October 31, 2012 10:05 AM
Magda Atia, 57, is battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is trying to bring her half-sister Mona here from Egypt to help her and cook meals, but immigration officials have denied her a visa.
I forgot to ask about the vase of lovely red roses, flecked with baby’s breath.
Cancer is like that. It clears the table of small talk, of the origin of perfect petals.
They sit in Magda Atia’s living room in Barrhaven. She is 57, battling pancreatic cancer. When they use terms like “palliative” to describe treatment, and measure the future in months, you know things are serious.
She and her husband of 33 years, Mohammed Elsaraj, are desperately trying to bring to Canada her half-sister, Mona, from Egypt. She is the closest female relative, a homeland soulmate, and would surely boost Magda’s spirits as she helps to keep the household running.
But Mona and her four-year-old daughter were denied a travel visa by Canadian immigration officials. The answer provided, which makes no sense, is that there was concern that they would try to stay here permanently and possibly be a burden on the state.
Mona has a husband in Egypt, four other children under 18, and a job. It is preposterous to think she would stay here.
“I would be so much more comfortable with Mona here,” said Magda.
Coming to Canada 17 years ago, the Elsaraj family has done spectacularly well. Mohammed is a manager-pharmacist and their three adult children, all boys, are professionals or on a high-end education track. One son is a dental surgeon, the second operates a build-design firm in town and a third is in business school.
So, in the face of the visa denial, they’ve pulled out all the stops.
They’ve appealed to their MP, Pierre Poilievre, for help. So far, not much has happened. They’ve written to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. So far, an infuriating silence.
They’ve provided letters from physicians and offered written assurances they will pay for Mona’s return flights, put her up in the spare bedroom at home and cover all her Canadian expenses.
“It’s been a headache since Day One,” said Magda’s middle son, Bassam. “We feel almost abandoned by a country, Canada, that is famous for its goodwill.”
Magda was diagnosed in April after complaining of pain on her right side. It was first thought to be a muscle strain but a second opinion from a walk-in clinic led to an X-ray that led to further tests. This led to surgery in June.
She began chemo in August, with more scheduled for November. The family is less than thrilled with the treatment. They say the chemo dosage was initially so high that Magda actually collapsed at home and had to be rushed to hospital.
Bassam, who runs an architectural design company, has moved his office into the house. The other brothers are visiting from out of town whenever they can and Mohammed is taking days off when he can squeeze them in.
The danger now is in leaving Magda alone for long periods.
She has lost 25 pounds and her voice has been reduced to a whisper. She spends her days on a sofa in the living room, exhausted, beside a table full of pills. House work is often beyond her, and cooking is minimal.
She even tried to see Mona by flying to Egypt, where they still have a residence, but doctors forbade it.
Calls to Poilievre’s office and the department of immigration were not fruitful.
The MP’s office cited privacy concerns and flipped questions over to the department, which asked for a written consent form, to be signed by both parties.
How the department thinks the Citizen, in a timely way, can obtain a written consent form from a woman who lives a four-hour drive from Cairo and probably speaks little English is one of life’s little mysteries.
“Please,” Mohammed wrote to immigration officials in September, “I don’t want to alarm you, but I want you to be aware of my wife’s situation. She is suffering a tremendous amount of pain. Understandably, she is in a great depression and overwhelmed with grief and anxiety.
“Mona’s presence here and support for Magda would be most beneficial.”
Mohammed appealed — practically begged — for a temporary visa to be granted on humanitarian grounds.
(There are a number of established grounds for inadmissibility for a visa, including: criminality, health or financial reasons, or misrepresentation. Currently, the visa office in Cairo says services may be liable to “unusual delays.”)
Well, one only hopes Poilievre — The Minister of Nepean-Carleton, as he was so glowingly referred to in a weekend piece in the Citizen — is trying to work some magic behind the scenes.
Somebody needs to wake up and smell the roses. And right now would be good.
She is terminally ill. Her family is desperate. The response so far is both embarrassing and cruel.
To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896, or email email@example.com
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