Rwandan genocide survivor's speaking tour threatened

By 
  • December 12, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - A Rwandan genocide survivor who has been denied entry into Canada is launching a final appeal so that she will be able to speak about reconciliation at aboriginal reserves in Manitoba and Ontario.

Having exhausted all of her options for a visitor's visa, Patricie Mukundiyukuri, 24, has now applied for a minister's permit, also known as a temporary resident permit.

Mukundiyukuri is vice-president of Rose of Dignity, a Christian non-profit group helping Rwandan women who are survivors of the 1994 genocide get out of prostitution. She was invited to do a speaking tour in Canada about her experience with reconciliation by Northern Connections, a Christian, aboriginal-run organization which works with First Nations communities in northern Manitoba and shares stories of faith.

Her supporters say having Mukundiyukuri speak at several reserves will provide a powerful witness for aboriginal communities.

Sydney Garrioch, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin, and Ron Evans, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, have written letters of support for Mukundiyukuri.

“As a First Nations organization, we want to show our endorsement and acceptance of the apology extended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada by reaching out to others affected by similar histories,” wrote Garrioch in an invitation letter to support Mukundiyukuri's application.

“I believe that Patricia — a Rwandese who has experienced the genocide and has extended forgiveness to those who massacred her family — has a very powerful testimony that must be shared,” adding that this reconciliation is needed in Canada at this time.

On June 11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology to aboriginal residential school survivors for the federal government's policy of assimilation through residential schools dating back to the 19th century.

According to Mukundiyukuri's refusal letter, her visitor's visa application was denied because of her travel history, current employment situation and limited job prospects in Rwanda. A Canadian High Commission official in Nairobi, Kenya, wrote in an e-mail to Rose of Dignity's founder Chantal Merizzi that “the visa officer who made this decision made the correct one.”

“You have asked for a minister's permit, but I do not see extenuating circumstances that would warrant the issuance of a permit,” the official wrote.

A minister's permit can be issued to people who are automatically deemed inadmissible and have a compelling need to come to Canada. Mukundiyukuri has applied based upon humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Calls to immigration minister Jason Kenney's office were not returned.

Born to a Catholic father and Protestant mother, Mukundiyukuri was 11 years old during the conflict which claimed the lives of her father and five siblings. Her mother died when she was just two years old. Merizzi said Mukundiyukuri shares a similar story with the women participating in her project: After the genocide, poverty had pushed them into prostitution. But now they're turning their lives around and training to be local entrepreneurs.

Merizzi said Mukundiyukuri was also scheduled to have given talks at churches in Ontario.

Speaking through a translator, Mukundiyukuri told The Catholic Register during a telephone interview from Rwanda that her message to Canadians is that “no matter what may happen between people, it's possible to forgive.”

“When I was a little girl, I loved God and I remember that the Bible says we should love our enemies. But after losing my parents, I didn't know if I could forgive,” she said.

It was after she became involved with Rose of Dignity that she was reminded of her faith and forgiveness, she said.

Joel Molin, executive director of Northern Connections Inc., said he was disappointed with the news about Mukundiyukuri's initial application. Molin had travelled to Africa with his wife and were with Mukundiyukuri when she learned about the decision.

“I found it very insulting and embarrassing to be Canadian at that point,” he told The Register during a telephone interview from The Pas, Manitoba.

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