Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nun with honorary aboriginal membership loses deportation fight

A Nigerian nun who has been working with a Manitoba First Nation will be deported despite her claim for refugee status and the band's support of her. Sister Nkemhurunaya Juliana Eligwe has been helping people of the Sandy Bay Ojibwa First Nation, on the shore of Lake Manitoba, for more than two years and has been made an honorary member of the band. The Roman Catholic nun claimed refugee status, saying she would suffer religious persecution if she were sent back to Nigeria.

The band's council decided to try to help Eligwe after immigration officials rejected her request, but without success. "She put in a request for an honorary citizenship within our community and we felt obliged to do it, seeing that she served our community so well," Sandy Bay Chief Irvin McIvor said. The band then argued in Federal Court that Eligwe should not be forced from Canada because the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that "every person registered as an Indian under the Indian Act has the right to enter into and remain in Canada."

The argument did not wash with Federal Court Judge Sean Harrington, who ruled that honorary memberships do not supersede decisions by the Immigration Department. "The proposition put forward, if brought to its extreme, is that each and every band . . . has the power to usurp the discretion of the minister of citizenship and immigration by accepting non-residents as band members, and thereby granting them permanent resident status," Harrington said in his July 19 ruling. McIvor hinted the decision may be appealed.

"The Federal Court cannot decide whom we make honorary members or who lives in our community," he said. "I think there'll be another page to the story." Harrington pointed out that nuns can apply for work permits to stay in Canada if they are truly engaged in religious activities, but he raised questions about Eligwe's role. "(Eligwe) has worked here as a short-order cook and in other non-religious capacities, although she has also led the band's choir and has been of spiritual assistance to many," he said in his ruling.

Immigration officials decided Eligwe is unlikely to face persecution in her home country because she hails from a region that is predominantly Christian. The African nation is governed by an elected civilian regime, but is suffering from ethnic and class tension, especially in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has staged a wave of attacks and hostage-takings across the area this year. It is demanding redistribution of Nigeria's oil wealth, saying people in the Delta region don't receive a fair share.

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