'We are never going to forget them': 10 years on, Raza family grateful for sanctuary in Winnipeg church

1 / 3

'We are never going to forget them': 10 years on, Raza family grateful for sanctuary in Winnipeg church

'We are never going to forget them': 10 years on, Raza family grateful for sanctuary in Winnipeg church

Ten years ago a family that sought asylum in Winnipeg found it at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church.

The Raza family ended up living in that church for 18 months while they were fighting a deportation order to Pakistan. 

"In our hearts we are never going to forget them," said Rubab Raza on CBC's Information Radio.

The 24-year-old now lives in Ottawa with her parents and five other siblings.

With the surge of asylum seekers coming into Manitoba, she uniquely knows the struggles of trying to live in Canada when your future is uncertain.

From January until April 8, resettlement workers say they've helped 360 people who have crossed into Canada at Emerson, Man.

"Honestly, I know if I were in their shoes I would probably do the same thing. I know my parents would do the same thing," Raza said.

"My parents, I know nothing matters more to them than the safety of their children and they are willing to do anything to give them that security in life so they are protected and they won't be harassed for who they are or where they are."

Seeking sanctuary

The family left Pakistan in 1997 and lived in the United States until the environment of the country drastically changed after 9/11.

Canada became home in 2003, two of the children were born here and Raza's father, Hassan, worked full-time in Winnipeg.

But it wouldn't last.

In 2006, Hassan Raza and Rubab Raza's mother, Sarfraz Kausar, were threatened with a deportation to Pakistan after a federal court rejected their refugee claim based on the threat of religious persecution. Hassan Raza is a Shia Muslim, while Kausar is Sunni.

They sought sanctuary inside the Crescent Rouge United Church and applied to stay in Canada on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, with the church lobbying for landed immigrant status.

While living inside the church, the children were home-schooled by volunteers who also helped to feed them and provided entertainment and comfort. In 2007, the children were allowed to start attending classes at a regular school, their only excursions outside the church.

"I really do want to come back to Winnipeg just to see … everyone who [was] at the church. I miss them," Raza said.

"We lived with them, ate with them, shared our happiness, sorrows and everything. They are basically like a second family."

In 2008 the family was granted temporary resident status after they drove to the border with their immigration lawyer to fulfil the deportation order, the lawyer explained at the time. They crossed into the United States and came back into Canada.

"That was one of the days in my life I will never forget," said Raza.

In 2011, they officially became permanent residents.

'I love Canada'

Adjusting to life outside their sanctuary was difficult, Raza said. Her father's business ended up closing in Winnipeg and the family moved to Ottawa.

"I became too old for my age and I wasn't a kid anymore. l couldn't think like 14-year-old girls think anymore — they were into makeup and boys and my head was wrapped around by family most of the time," Raza said.

"So it was really hard making friends during that time. It does change a person a lot."

In Ottawa, Raza graduated high school and has been working, as have her parents, and she is preparing to apply for Canadian citizenship. Her younger siblings are now in school.

While life hasn't always been easy in Canada, Rubab Raza said she wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"I am proud to be where I am. I love Canada and honestly I would not give it up for anything, even a million dollars I would not give up," she said.

"At this age, with everything I have been through and experienced, [I am] the person I am today."