Churches in Toronto Fight to Prevent the Deportation

By Joe Kingsley Eyiah

....of a Ghanaian Youth Worker from Canada. Immigration Canada is being bombarded with letters and appeals from Churches and youth agencies in Toronto on its decision to deport a Ghanaian Youth worker, Benjamin Osei, 44, back to Ghana on Friday, January 23, 2004. I have personally known Mr. Osei as a selfless person since last year when he started volunteering in the Toronto inner city school where I teach.

Mr. Osei a few weeks ago lost a last-ditch application to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds. The story of this industrious Ghanaian who started as a volunteer, working factory jobs during the day and a full-time youth worker based at the church for the past year has received wide coverage in the print media and on television within the past few days in Toronto.

The youth in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto who are mostly Black, with a great Ghanaian population, are at risk since many come from difficult family and economic backgrounds. It is among this population that Mr. Osei, by God’s grace, has been able to establish a successful youth work. He has been teaching the youth life skills that might not be taught at home when parents, mainly single mothers, work multiple jobs to make ends meet. He currently runs basketball programs for 60 boys and girls, mostfrom Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. He also organizes a girls-only club, with activities such as skating and cooking.

According to the churches and youth agencies in Toronto, it would be difficult to find a replacement when Mr. Osei is sent back to Ghana so they continuing their fight to let him stay. Their efforts are being supported by Professor Andrew D. MacRae of the Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University in Canada where Mr. Osei obtained his Master’s Degree in Divinity. In a letter to Scott Brison MP for intervention in Mr. Osei’s case, Prof. MacRae among other tings states clearly the background of Benjamin Osei and urges the MP to act swiftly to ensure social justices as seen below: Background Benjamin was born in Ghana in 1959, and received his General Certificate of Education there. His parents moved to Sierra Leone shortly after a coup in Ghana in 1972, and Benjamin finally joined them there upon completion of his schooling in Ghana in 1983. He remained in Sierra Leone until November, 1993; there he married a citizen of Sierra Leone and had two children.

For one year (September 1984 to September 1985) he was Assistant Tutor at a secondary school in Kabala, He then attended the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts, graduating in 1988.

That August he set up a bakery in Tongo Field, with the partial aim of assisting displaced youth with skill development. He retained ownership of the bakery until it was confiscated by soldiers in 1993. Concurrently with operating the bakery he became a Tutor at the Agricultural Secondary School in Tongo Field in August 1989, where he taught Bible Knowledge and English. He continued in that capacity until 1993.

In 1991 war broke out in Sierra Leone, with rebels holding a number of rural areas. On December 28, 1992, rebels ambushed a bus about six miles out of Tongo Field and murdered the passengers. Among the passengers were Benjamin’s wife and two children, who were all massacred. When he went to verify their deaths he was captured and held for ten months in a college confiscated by the rebels in Bunumbu, approximately 18 miles from Tongo Field. There, on threat of death by starvation, he was forced to bake bread for the rebels.

In October 1993 Bunumbu came under army fire; the rebels fled and Benjamin was picked up by the army at the college. He was taken first to Daru, then back to Tongo Field. He was subjected to two weeks interrogation, including torture, as an alleged collaborator with the rebels. On October 20, 1993 he was loaded on a truck along with a number of prisoners, and was driven to Rebel Hill, a place of execution. While waiting his turn for execution, an army officer recognized him and offered to provide safe conduct for him to the West Africa Monitoring Group, a Peace Keeping Force, conditional upon him signing over the bakery and all other assets to the officer. Fearing for his life, Benjamin agreed. Eventually the Peace Keepers took him to Freetown, from where he received permission from the Sierra Leone government to return to Ghana. He arrived there on November 26, 1993.

Back in Ghana, he was required to do two years of national service. He was sent to a remote area where he was Acting Headmaster and English Teacher at a secondary school. In January 1995 he moved to another school as Director/Tutor of Christian and Religious Studies, then in January 1996 he became Director of Christian Education with Christ Apostolic Church in Tepa-Ash, Ghana. Having received an opportunity to go to Wolfville for theological training, he moved to Canada in September 1996.

Once in Ghana he remarried and now has two children, one of whom he has not seen – she was born after he came to Canada. (He returned to Ghana for a brief period following his graduation from Wolfville, to set up his ministry, but was soon forced to flee, after attempts were made on his life, and returned to Canada.)

Since that time, he has taken temporary jobs in Toronto as a way of meeting his own and his family’s expenses in Ghana, and over the past year has been working with a group of Toronto Churches and a Christian social organization named Youth Unlimited, an organization that works with various churches and Denominations, in the interests of the youth of the area.

His work among the youth (mainly black) of the Jane-Finch area, which is widely recognized as one of Canada’s most violent and socially disturbed areas, has been marked by remarkable success, and something of his story was published in the Globe & Mail on December 30.

During these years, he applied for Refugee Status, which was denied, largely, it seems, because he did not claim citizenship in Sierra Leone, but in Ghana. It appears that Immigration Canada concluded that it would be safe for him to return to Ghana, now that a new Government was in place, and a Deportation Order was issued, his passport confiscated, his SIN and Health coverage cancelled, and his work permit revoked. However, at the same time, his “case” was said to be under consideration by another branch of Immigration Canada, and his eligibility to stay in Canada assessed “on humanitarian grounds”.

In July 2003, the Deportation Order was delayed, and he was assured that he would be granted a new Work Permit, which he had previously held.

Meantime, the three years of repeated delays, and demands for new applications from Immigration Canada, have kept him separated from this wife, Monica, and two young children in Ghana.

The churches and agencies supporting his appointment to his work in the Jane-Finch area have made repeated attempts to secure meetings with his MP Ms. Judy Sgro, who is now the new Minister of Immigration, but without success. Doubtless, her agenda is very full, but the needs in this case are extremely urgent, and I am informed that a very large number of supporting letters have been sent to her office from the Toronto area.

It is the hope of the Ghanaian community in Toronto that the case of Benjamin Osei would be looked into by the new Minister of Immigration immediately and favorably so as to bring social justice to Mr. Osei and the others like him in Canada.

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