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This article was published 28/7/2011 (3503 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BECAUSE of a strange combination of a resentful father-in-law and a misunderstanding of Western culture, Emmanuel Ngendakuriyo finds himself fighting to bring his wife and three-year-old son to Canada using a last-ditch provision of Canada's immigration law.
When Ngendakuriyo came to Canada as a refugee from Cameroon two years ago, he didn't put his wife, Emeline, on the application -- a fundamental error. Now, humanitarian and compassionate grounds are the only way he can apply to sponsor her.
Emmanuel and Emeline have no other option because they only married weeks before he flew to Winnipeg -- too late to include her on his application.
Before that, Ngendakuriyo's father-in-law wouldn't allow the marriage. In parts of Cameroon, the bride's father sets a dowry to be paid by the groom. Emeline's father asked an exorbitant price, four million Central African francs, or about $8,400, when Emmanuel's monthly salary at the time was about 110,000 francs, or $230.
The father-in-law finally relented just weeks before Emmanuel's departure.
In a further twist, Ngendakuriyo and Emeline had actually lived together for two years before they were married, thus becoming common-law partners under Canadian law.
But Emmanuel says he had never heard of common-law marriage until he came to Canada, so he didn't know to put Emeline down on the immigration forms as his common-law wife.
Now, Emmanuel needs to prove that they really did live together as a couple. He had to send Citizenship and Immigration Canada a curious package of phone bills, letters and photographs of him and Emeline to prove that they are in love.
Emmanuel fled his native Burundi to Cameroon in 1996 when his parents and five of his siblings were killed during the civil war there.
He struggled for years to find work in Cameroon. After an attempt to get on the UN's centralized list of refugees went nowhere, he applied to Canada in 2005. He had known another Burundian man who was sponsored by the Winnipeg refugee shelter, Hospitality House, so he called up the charity.
While his immigration to Canada moved forward, so did his relationship with Emeline, a Cameroon woman he met while repairing computers at the school where she studied English.
"What God wants, it doesn't wait, it happens naturally," Emmanuel says, in French. He speaks slowly, with pauses between words.
Emmanuel fit in well at Hospitality House, where he lived for a year and a half upon his arrival in Winnipeg.
"He considers us his parents," says Karin Gordon, the executive director of the charity. "We're his de facto Canadian supporters and his cheering section and friends."
Today, he works nights on an assembly line, building agricultural equipment as well as part-time doing odd jobs at the Union Gospel Mission. He lives in his own apartment and he's bought a used, maroon Toyota Camry. He calls Emeline daily, and they often break down in tears on the line while he racks up huge phone bills. He attends mass every week at the St. Boniface cathedral. "Prayer calms me a lot," he says.
Reached at her home in Cameroon, Emeline expresses her dismay: "It's too, too hard.
"I have to look after all the family responsibilities. I am the husband, I am the wife."
Because a child is involved, Emmanuel's chances of success are relatively high, says Quanhai Tonthat, a refugee sponsorship co-ordinator with the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.
But Thonthat says that humanitarian and compassionate cases take too long to process; he expects a wait of another year or two, on top of the year Ngendakuriyo has already waited.