The Fuh-Cham family is fighting to remain in Canada while Citizenship and Immigration Canada seeks to deport the family to Cameroon. Photo by Alan Hustak

Montreal Catholic family fights deportation to Cameroon

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • October 9, 2014

MONTREAL - A Montreal parish is rallying behind a Catholic family that is battling deportation to Cameroon where it faces an uncertain and perhaps even dangerous future. 

The fate of Hilary Fuh-Cham and his wife Yvette is in the hands of a federal court, which heard an appeal of their case on Oct. 7. 

The couple came to Canada with their daughter, Casey, 13, as refugees seven years ago. Since then, they have had two more children, Telcy, five, and Andy, four, who are Canadian citizens. 

Fuh-Cham is the son of a tribal chieftain from the village of Weh, in the northwestern part of Cameroon, near the Nigerian border. He converted to Catholicism and was baptized as a teenager. Rather than become chief when his father died, Fuh-Cham left the country because he opposed some traditional tribal practices, particularly the circumcision of women. 

“I am in danger, very great danger if I return,” he said during a prayer vigil held Oct. 5 at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. “My people believe I despise them, that I betrayed them, and they will do everything to destroy me. To them I am worse than a traitor.” 

The family is active in the suburban Montreal parish of St. Jean Brebeuf, where Fuh-Cham started an African choir. Both Fuh-Cham and his wife have jobs, and do not depend on social assistance. He has a manager’s position with UPS and she works for a telephone answering service. 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, however, rejected their claim for refugee status. A subsequent appeal for permission to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was also rejected. Their last hope was a stay of deportation hearing in federal court. At press time, they were awaiting the court’s decision. 

The parish has rallied to their support, and a number of public demonstrations have been held to publicize their predicament. A petition bearing more than 1,500 signatures has been filed with the government. NDP MP Hélène Leblanc has raised the issue in the House of Commons. However, appeals to the Immigration Minister and to the Prime Minister’s Office have been unsuccessful. 

“We are up against a wall of indifference and up against a government that doesn’t want to do anything,” said parish priest Fr. Gerard Martineau. “To my mind, the Fuh-Chams are Canadians, they are involved in the parish, they are a model of Canadian citizenship. It is sickening to see what they have been subjected to.” 

If he is ordered to leave the country, Fuh-Cham can apply for landed immigrant status from Cameroon, a process that could take years. He could also split up the family, leaving his two Canadian-born children behind. 

“If I did that, my children would be put into the welfare system. I could not abandon them,” said Yvette. 

“It is not easy to start a new life in Africa. Canada will not allow us to apply for landed immigrant status unless we have jobs in Cameroon. If we are deported, we have no jobs to go to in Cameroon. The Canadian government will lend us money for a one-way ticket back to Cameroon, but we have to pay that money back. Of course we would like to come back if we can come back, but it would be very difficult for us to come back as landed immigrants.” 

Cathy Guilietti, a member of a committee to help the Fuh-Chams, says the parish will continue its fight to keep the family in Canada. 

Although the Fuh-Chams could seek sanctuary in the church, Martineau said that would be impractical for a family of five. 

“If it was one person, perhaps, but sanctuary for five people wouldn’t work. They wouldn’t be able to leave the church, the children would not be able to go to school and their parents would not be able to work.” 

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