Victoria and Favour: 14 months in sanctuary

by Vanda Schmöckel

Photo by Vanda Schmockel

Aug. 13 marked a national day of action for Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi, the Nigerian students who were forced to seek asylum in a Regina church basement following deportation orders after unwittingly working at a Regina Walmart illegally.

While those at the Regina rally are calling on new minister of citizenship and immigration Chris Alexander to make a discretionary call and allow the women to stay in the country to continue their studies — a move that both the provincial government and its opposition support — so far, no word has come down from the ministry to suggest which way Alexander will lean.

In the meantime, somewhere in this city, Amadi and Ordu are in a very frustrating holding pattern, having effectively lost a year of their lives with no way of knowing how much longer they’ll have to wait.

Needless to say, living in hiding for over a year is taking its toll on the young women.

“It’s been really painful,” Ordu says via Skype. “So we can’t say we’re doing fine. Because we’re not.”

With the school year about to ramp up again, there is added pressure to have this situation resolved in time for the women to enrol in fall classes.

“[It’s] saddening for us,” Ordu says, “because we wish to go back to school like every normal student. So living here every day is just a tough experience for us.”

So far, the students say, minister Chris Alexander has yet to respond to either the women, their advocates, or their legal counsel — other than to confirm that he’s aware of the situation.

At the crux of the matter is the fact that Amadi and Ordu were working off campus without a work permit. The social insurance numbers issued to them after enrolling at the University of Regina only entitled them to work on campus — which they did. In order to work off campus, they would have had to secure a separate work permit — something Amadi and Ordu say they weren’t aware of until it was too late.

The problem is that while international students are eligible to work on campus, that work isn’t always available to them. All students, both domestic and international, are eligible to apply for on-campus positions — and there aren’t nearly enough jobs to go around.

“The University of Regina Student Union offers about 40 to 50 position opportunities for students specifically,” says URSU president Nathan. “Those are open to any students on campus, not just internationals. I know for sure there are less jobs available than there are international students.”

Clearly there is a pressing need for international students to be able to legally work off campus. In the case of Amadi and Ordu, they were enrolled at the University of Regina thanks to a scholarship from the Nigerian government, but were still on a very limited budget.

There is currently a legislative change in the works at the ministry of immigration that would make Amadi and Ordu’s case a moot point, were they to find themselves in this situation after this legislation is ostensibly passed.

International students make up an increasingly significant portion of post-secondary enrollment in Canada. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2012 saw 100,000 new international students enrolled at institutions across the country. As of this past winter, the University of Regina had over 1,000 registered international undergraduate students. And that number is going to go up.

“The university has a goal in terms of raising its international numbers by 50 per cent. They want to expand, and that’s something they’ve been told to do by the Saskatchewan government,” Sgrazzutti says.

On average, foreign students pay about three times more for tuition than their domestic counterparts. And that money goes directly into the school’s coffers.

“Canadian universities aren’t getting enough money from their governments,” Sgrazzutti says. “As an example, [the U of R] got a 1.9 per cent [funding] increase from the Saskatchewan government when we asked for five per cent. To cover that cost, you can [recruit] in international students, because their money goes directly into the pot. There seems to be a general trend across Canada right now that the best route to covering your expenses is to import international students to help cover that hole [in funding].”

For its part, the University of Regina has been quite vocal about their support of Ordu and Amadi. U of R President Vianne Timmons has publicly called on the ministry to show compassion, and there is an ardent support group made up of U of R students, professors and other concerned members of the community who are making it loud and clear that they won’t stop talking about Amadi and Ordu’s case until it’s resolved.

“We feel we’ve got a good amount of support from the school and we’re very grateful for that,” Amadi says. “They understand our situation and they know that it was really an honest mistake. We wouldn’t jeopardize our scholarships for something this minor. So the school’s been really supportive and we’re really grateful for everything they’ve done for us.”

At the same time, Amadi and Ordu are understandably unhappy with the way they’re being treated, and they say their experience might cause other international students aware of their situation to look at Canada in a different light when it comes to choosing a country to study in.

“I don’t think that it speaks well of Canada,” Amadi says. “Especially in the international community. If other students hear about situations like this, I don’t think they’ll be very encouraged. And I don’t think our government is pleased with the way this situation is being handled. It’s very worrying the way they’re going about this issue.

“Our government sends tons of students here every year to study,” says Amadi. “They’re really not happy with the way the Canadian government has treated [us].”