Toronto group says “mean-spirited” immigration officials unfairly snubbed a vulnerable young Ivory Coast woman stranded in Ghana.
“Lydiane” Gnonsio will never forget April 16, 2011.
That was the day she says she was gang-raped by pro-president thugs in her native Ivory Coast, a brutal attack that left her with HIV.
After fleeing to Ghana with her family, the young woman has waited anxiously at a United Nations refugee camp, hoping for a fresh start in a new country while coping with her illness and deteriorating vision.
Last spring, she felt she had won the lottery when she was selected for resettlement to Canada by the Office for Refugees at the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, and by Canadian sponsors Kim Beckman, her husband, George Popper, and their friends, Abigail Slater and Morry Guttman — total strangers to her at the time.
But that dream was dashed when the Canadian visa office in Accra rejected Gnonsio’s application, saying information she provided at her interview was inconsistent with details in her refugee claim and sponsorship application.
“She is already a part of our family, and it made me heartsick to know that she would have to endure more difficult weeks and months in the refugee camp while we attempted to have her application reconsidered,” said Beckman. “I felt totally helpless, and it is very difficult to remain hopeful and positive.”
Beckman, a lawyer, and Popper, an architect — whom Gnonsio, 29, calls Mother Kim and Father George — said visa post officials overlooked the young woman’s emotional and physical vulnerability at the interview — and the possibility details had been miscommunicated through an interpreter in Gnonsio’s first language, French. They note that both the United Nations and the Archdiocese have deemed Gnonsio a legitimate refugee.
They are praying Canadian immigration officials will reassess her case.
“Lydiane is hanging on emotionally by a thread,” said Beckman, who has been in contact with Gnonsio several times a week since they were introduced last summer. “She has experienced multiple traumas and is medically and psychologically vulnerable. She is in need of a safe refuge and is highly motivated to become a successful Canadian citizen.”
Immigration officials said Gnonsio was interviewed on Oct. 26, 2015, and was offered the opportunity to respond to questions about the inconsistent information she had provided to the visa officer.
“Ms. Gnonsio’s responses did not dispel the officer’s concerns and the permanent resident visa was denied,” immigration department spokesperson Faith St-John told the Star in an email. The department said Gnonsio’s only option is to reapply.
“We understand people are disappointed when their applications are refused. However, our responsibility is to make sure that all immigrants meet the requirements to come to Canada. Decisions are made by highly trained public servants according to Canadian law, and are based on the information they have available to them at the time.”
Popper and Beckman said they had planned to sponsor a Syrian refugee family last year but were advised by the Archdiocese to consider refugees from another country because of the limited quota the then- Conservative government assigned to Syrians at the time.
Popper, once a refugee himself — his family came to Canada from Hungary in 1957, when it was under siege by the Soviet Union — said he and Becker were immediately drawn to the profile of Gnonsio, a single woman with dire needs who was stranded in the Ampain refugee camp in Ghana.
“We are extremely concerned about her well-being. We hope and pray she can come and start a new life and leave the old, terrible past behind,” said Popper.
According to Popper, Gnonsio’s father was a staunch supporter of ousted Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, and like other supporters faced persecution when Alassane Ouattara came into power in early 2011.
She later fled to Ghana with her parents, eight siblings and a niece.
“The military of Ivory Coast, with their new power, chased and hunted down people. These were the men who raped me. It was April 16, 2011. This is a memorable date that I cannot forget because of the trauma it caused my life,” Gnonsio told the Star through a translator.
“Our return to our homeland is impossible under the present conditions in Ivory Coast. I am worried about my health which is more and more precarious, fragile for the last few months. I suffer from anemia because of the unbalanced diet and because of the stress of my waiting to (go to) Canada.”
Guttman, a construction project manager, and his wife, Abigail, a businesswoman, said a nervous Gnonsio left the camp on her own, days before her interview at the Canadian visa post in Accra, because it’s nine hours away from the camp in western Ghana.
Gnonsio, said Guttman, also suffered an illness on her initial arrival in Ghana and was in a coma for sometime, leading to partial memory loss. An interview in English through a French-speaking interpreter did not help, he added.
“The interview was brief. It was about crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. There was no understanding of the trauma Lydiane has been through. It was just mean-spirited,” he noted.
Source : The Star