A dad and his little girl who walked into Canada at Emerson four years ago and made a refugee claim have been granted permanent resident status on rare humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Zahid Abbas, who has been working two jobs to support his daughter, Kashaf, 11, and her mom and younger sister who remain in Pakistan, received a letter April 7 from the federal government saying the pair are now permanent residents of Canada.
"I was really happy and excited," said Abbas, who shared the good news with his daughter when she got home from school.
"She started crying. She called her mom and told her... My wife and younger daughter were really excited," said Abbas, who praised Canada and thanked Winnipeg-based human rights lawyer David Matas for taking his case.
Matas said the federal government receives many applications from people asking to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. "Anyone can make them," he said this week. "The acceptance rate is relatively low."
Kashaf and her dad travelled to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Fla., from Pakistan, to be treated for webbed fingers on her right hand.
She was born with Poland syndrome, which is characterized by an underdeveloped chest muscle and short, webbed fingers on one side of the body.
As a girl with disabilities, and her parents’ "mixed" Sunni-Shia marriage, she — and her mom, who has been assaulted because of it — was a target for discrimination and persecution in Pakistan, Abbas has said.
A Florida immigration lawyer told him making an asylum claim in the United States was a costly and hopeless proposition for people from Pakistan. Abbas, who was a police officer in his home country, decided to seek asylum Canada.
The pair headed north, and walked over the border at Emerson in August 2017.
They found lodging in an inner-city rooming house, before moving to an apartment in St. Vital, where Abbas found work and made friends.
He’s worked part-time on the pandemic front lines at Tim Hortons and for an agency supporting people with intellectual disabilities (which Abbas said will soon become a full-time position).
Kashaf is now in Grade 5, has friends and is thriving at school. Abbas said he looks forward to sponsoring his wife and younger daughter and their arrival in Canada once their applications are approved and travel bans are lifted.
They will apply, as a family, to become Canadian citizens as soon as they’re eligible, he said.
"This is the most wonderful country I’ve seen so far," Abbas said. "It gives us equal rights and a person who wants to do hard work can, and achieve their targets. It has a wonderful education system and transparent politics."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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