A nine-year-old Canadian boy and his Iranian parents, all three confined to a Texas detention centre for illegal immigrants, are being granted temporary passage to Canada by Immigration and Citizenship Minister Diane Finley.
Kevin Yourdkhani and his parents were detained last month in the U.S. when their effort to seek refuge in Canada with the help of human smugglers was thwarted by U.S. Customs officials in Puerto Rico when they made an unscheduled stop on American soil. "The minister's decision was made in the best interests of the child," Mike Fraser, a spokesman for the minister, said Monday. "This is a unique situation."
Fraser said he could not comment on how soon the family may leave the Texas facility, which is currently the target of a lawsuit by a U.S. civil rights organization, or how long the family will be able to stay in Canada, citing privacy concerns. "All I can say is that we're in negotiations with U.S. authorities," Fraser said.
Although the residency permit hasn't been issued yet, the family's Canadian lawyer said he expects U.S. authorities will agree to free the family, and that they will make a second bid for asylum in Canada. "The details are still being worked out between the two governments, and this is taking a bit longer than I was hoping it would," said Toronto lawyer Andrew Brouwer.
A Texas man "appalled" by the conditions at the converted prison where the family is being held has agreed to pay for their flights to Canada, he added. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week demanding U.S. officials release the family from the "inhumane conditions" of the T. Don Hutto facility just outside Austin and asked that the government be prohibited from separating Kevin from his parents.
Kevin, who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper pleading for help, declared in a court document that he sleeps in a cell with his mother right next to a toilet and there is no privacy. "The food is garbage," he said. "I was hungry all the time for five days ... Everybody in my pod is really sick right now. Some kids can't go to school. Lots of kids have eye infections." Kevin's mother, Masomeh Alibegi, said the boy lost four pounds in 10 days and has been sick with asthma but has been unable to get all the medication he needs. His father, Majid Yourdkhani, sleeps on a separate floor.
The lawsuit, which includes nine other kids from various countries, also alleges the centre doesn't meet minimum conditions for housing minors and many children lack access to adequate medical care and education. Children must wear prison garb, get only one hour of recreation most days and are detained in small cells for up to 12 hours a day.