Canada Starts Application Process For Stranded Iranian Christians

Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Canada Starts Application Process For Stranded Iranian Christians
Convert Family in Eastern Turkey Considered for Immigration
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, August 7 (Compass) -- Canadian authorities issued written verification yesterday that its embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara has begun the immigration application process for an Iranian Christian family stranded in eastern Turkey for more than two years.

An official notice dated August 6 was issued to Mahmoud Erfani by the Immigration Office of the Canadian Embassy in Ankara. The Iranian convert was also given an official case file number. The document declared that Erfani and his family had submitted "an application for immigration to Canada now being processed by Canadian authorities."

According to the notice, if Erfani and his family meet all of Canada's immigration requirements, they could leave Turkey for Canada within eight months.

The new Canadian Embassy document is expected to stay a previous letter of deportation ordered by the Turkish Interior Ministry after the Erfanis were refused refugee status under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara.

According to Erfani, who spoke with Compass by telephone from Nevsehir, embassy officials indicated they would notify him of a date for his first interview in Ankara sometime next month.

Erfani, 45, confirmed that he was greatly relieved to have been issued the Canadian Embassy document, which notes, "We trust that this information will facilitate the above person's temporary stay in Turkey." The family's Turkish residency status expired nine months ago, leaving them vulnerable to possible deportation back to Iran.

An Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity, Erfani fled with his wife and three daughters to Turkey in July 1999. Now in a wheelchair, his wife Atefeh was diagnosed with advancing multiple sclerosis seven years ago.

Both Erfani and his wife were baptized 20 years ago in Mashhad, a center of Islamic activity and the holiest Shiite pilgrimage shrine in Iran. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, local authorities have closed the city's two Protestant churches, hung one convert pastor and opened apostasy cases against three other convert Christian families who fled the country for asylum abroad.

Although part of a handful of remaining convert Christians meeting secretly in their homes, Erfani had no formal documents proving that he was under official threat of persecution for his faith. After his family was evicted from their home on the former Presbyterian church compound in the spring of 1999, he was terrified by repeated threats and interrogations and fled with his family by bus across the Turkish border.

Admitting the Erfani family into the Canadian application process does not guarantee that the country's immigration authorities will accept them, but official church sponsorship is often a determining factor in the process.

On June 19, an Anglican church in Toronto pledged full sponsorship for the stranded couple and their three daughters, filing the necessary papers taking legal responsibility for their financial support for their first year in Canada.

"But we are not sure how the Canadian authorities will view his wife's health problems," a church representative told Compass today from Toronto. "Sometimes they are cautious about this."

Copyright 2001, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.