Bangladeshi faces deportation, separation from family after 25 years in Canada

Mohammaf Mahfuz Alam with his grandchildren. Family photo via the Toronto Star
A Bangladeshi man is facing deportation and separation from his son, daughter-in-law and four grandsons after living in Canada for 25 years.

Mohammad Mahfuz Alam, the 61-year-old failed refugee claimant, missed an in-person interview scheduled for November 2021, prompting the Canadian border officials to issue a warrant and arrest him at work on May 7, 2022, the Toronto Star reported on Thursday.

Alam had to leave his family behind and worked hard to build a life in Canada so he could give his family in Bangladesh a better future. It was his hope that one day, his wife and two children would join him there. He even bought a modest home in Toronto to which his family might someday come.

Though his refugee claim was later refused, he would end up spending the past quarter of a century in Canada. His son Shahed, who was identified with a single name, went to Canada in 2015 as a skilled immigrant and is a Canadian citizen now.

For years, Alam had reported to the Canada Border Services Agency on the third Wednesday of each month — by phone and occasionally in person, upon notification by letter — to assure officials he had not disappeared or gone underground.

“They have allowed him to establish himself in Canada. He’s made all these sacrifices in this country. After taking all the taxes and labour from him, they now rush to send him home. It just doesn’t make any sense to us,” says Shahed, who works as a general labourer in a warehouse and counts on Alam’s support to raise Shahed’s six-year-old son and four-year-old triplets.

Alam’s refugee claim was refused in 1997, according to the border agency’s record. Appeals were eventually exhausted in 2000. However, the record showed nothing happened for nine years until 2009, when he was scheduled for a removal interview and asked to apply for a Bangladeshi passport for his deportation.

In 2012, he was deemed safe to go back to Bangladesh but he still needed a birth certificate, border officials said in a timeline of his file. Removal interviews were again scheduled for 2016 and late 2018 to follow up on his travel document application.

Last August, Alam attended yet another removal interview and was asked to apply for a travel document. He was arrested on May 7 and detained for four days for failing to show up for the November appointment.

Shahed said neither his father nor his immigration consultant received the notification for the Nov 28 meeting because the letter was never received. The border agency’s notice of arrest said the letter had a wrong address but that a copy was emailed to Alam personally. Its record showed an officer located the email upon Alam’s arrest when he offered to let them search his phone.

“When my father was arrested, he asked the officer to search his phone. Why would he ask them to search his phone if he had known the email was there?” asked Shahed, adding that Alam is not tech savvy and rarely pays attention to his email.

Alam, who owned a construction supply store back home, said he worked as a dish washer when he first came to Toronto before becoming a line cook. For the past 20 years, he has worked as a machine operator.

Since 2000, he has made five failed attempts to obtain permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian grounds. The most recent one, refused in late 2019, asked immigration officials to consider the best interests of his grandchildren: both his son and daughter-in-law were unable to secure employment and relied on his financial support.

Officials rejected Alam’s humanitarian application because the application did not include evidence to show how his son’s family depended on him financially and emotionally.

Shahed, who worked in sales for a telecom company before going to Canada, said his father would call home on a calling card once a month in the early days because long-distance calls were expensive. Eventually, the family got to talk more through video calls.

“When I came to Canada, I realised how hard it’s to find a job if you don’t have Canadian credentials and networks. I, too, worked as a dish washer when I (first) arrived in Saskatoon. I knew how hard my father worked.”

Citing a 2019 study by World Education Services, the Toronto Star said only 39.1 percent of skilled immigrants in Canada had jobs similar to what they had before immigration, and employment rates among those from Bangladesh were among the lowest among immigrant groups.

Alam had been scheduled for deportation on May 17 but it was deferred because he tested positive for COVID-19 the day before and couldn’t travel. The border agency has also refused the family’s request to delay Alam’s deportation further.

Lawyer Akada James, who represents the family, said her client has always been compliant with the law except for the lone appointment he missed in November, and that she is not sure why Alam is suddenly considered a flight risk.

“He has roots here. He’s contributed to the economy. He doesn’t have a criminal record, never been in trouble with the law. He’s never been on social assistance. He bought a home and has family and four grandchildren he’s assisting here,” said James.

“I can’t point to a reason why he doesn’t deserve to be here.”