Refugee claimant finds sanctuary in Montreal church

Tahira Malik (middle), the daughter of ailing refugee claimant Khurshid Begum Awan, speaks to the media. Photo: Awan Family Support Committee
Tahira Malik (middle), the daughter of ailing refugee claimant Khurshid Begum Awan, speaks to the media. Photo: Awan Family Support Committee
Published October 11, 2013

An Anglican church in Montreal is giving protection to a 57-year-old woman with a heart condition facing deportation to her native Pakistan.

The daughter and other supporters of Khurshid Begum Awan say she sought sanctuary in the church after staff of the Canadian Border Services Agency in Montreal ordered her to leave for Pakistan August 21, despite doctors’ warning about the risk of travelling in her condition. Supporters went public with the issue at a news conference on Oct. 8 in Fulford Hall of the diocese of Montreal.

Anglican Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal said, “The Anglican diocese of Montreal is committed to transform unjust structures of society and [to] strive for justice and peace among all people and [to] respect the dignity of every human being. Our providing sanctuary for Mrs. Awan is to give her the care and support she needs for her well-being while issues around her status in Canada can be reconciled.”

He said some people might say the diocese is breaking the law, “but I feel we are challenging the law on humanitarian and compassionate grounds,” in the interests not only of Mrs. Awan’s health but of trying to establish her status in Canada.

Supporters and the diocese have not disclosed in what church Mrs. Awan has taken refuge.

In late July, officers of the Border Services Agency entered the room at the Montreal General Hospital, where she was being treated after suffering a heart attack-the latest of several-in the Montreal offices of the agency. There was some respite after New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair and cardiologists at the hospital intervened, but she was again ordered out of the country in late August.

Mrs. Awan and her husband, Muhammad Khalil Awan, came to Canada via the United States in 2011 with a tourist visa and asked for refugee status, saying their lives were at risk from Muslim extremists, notably an anti-Shia group called Sipah-e-Sahaba. Mr. Awan had been a leading member of the minority Shia community in Lahore.

Their claim for refugee status was rejected in April. Mr. Awan was deported soon afterward. Supporters say he has been attacked since his return to Pakistan and is currently in hiding.

Their daughter, Tahira Malik, 29, came to Montreal in 2000 to escape an abusive husband; her son, Ali Own, 15, came with his grandparents, who raised him when he was growing up. Both Malik and her son were granted refugee status.

Supporters of Mrs. Awan, including members of a group called Solidarity Across Borders, the Canadian French-language section of Amnesty International and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, say they want to see her and her husband safely reunited in Canada.


Harvey Shepherd is editor of The Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Montreal.


Editor’s note: Parts of the original article have been revised to reflect corrections.


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