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Deported from Yellowknife

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 05/05) - Pavel Lopez spent some of his last days in Canada putting up garage sale posters around town so he could sell what wouldn't fit in a suitcase.

On Nov. 29, Lopez found out that his appeal for refugee status was denied and he had exactly a week before being deported. On Tuesday Lopez has to report to the Yellowknife RCMP office by 11 a.m. with his luggage so it can be searched. By 3 p.m. he will be at the airport waiting for his flight that will eventually take him to San Jose, Costa Rica.

"I feel disappointed, frustrated and sad," said Lopez.

Lopez, 37, has run out of options in what he considers an impersonal immigration system.

"The people from immigration ... don't see the person behind the case," he said.

Greg Merrall, the housekeeping and laundry service manager at Stanton Territorial Hospital, where Lopez works as a housekeeping supervisor, also wishes the system was more personal.

"His loss will put a large hole in an important service at the hospital," said Merrall.

It's no secret that the hospital is short of qualified staff, Merrall said.

"In the four years I've been here I've only had two people of Pavel's calibre," Merrall said.

Lopez's job includes infection and cross-contamination control, staff scheduling and training and quality assurance.

Merrall admits that he doesn't know a lot about the immigration system, but what he does know is the rules are costing him important staff members.

Two months ago, a housekeeper for the emergency department also lost her refugee appeal and was deported along with her husband and 11-year-old daughter.

"Why can't you (Citizenship and Immigration) help me keep these good people?" Merrall demanded.

Deportations are a daily part of the immigration process across Canada. One of the first papers a potential refugee signs is a pre-deportation order, said Ana Perdomo, an immigration advocate with the Centre of Northern Families.

People applying for refugee status have to show a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country. They have a hearing and if denied they can appeal using a pre-removal risk assessment to show they will be in danger if deported.

The problem is defining fear, said Perdomo.

She speaks from personal experience. In 1997 Perdomo, her husband and five children left a city in Brazil were innocent people were killed on the streets daily.

Their refugee claim was denied and they only remained in Canada on a Humanity and Compassion Review.

"My fear was not enough to become a refugee in Canada," she said.

"It's unfair but it's not always the immigration officer's fault, they are just applying the rules."

In Lopez's case, his pre-removal risk assessment determined that he wasn't at risk of persecution, danger, torture, or risk of life if he returned to Costa Rica, said Perdomo.

It's been a long journey for Lopez to find himself a day away from deportation.

He was born in Costa Rica, but fearing the political atmosphere he moved to Venezuela. Lopez got a tourism administration degree at the University of Caracas and worked for a tour company planning eco-tourism programs. In 2001 he felt the political system in Venezuela was unstable and decided to come to Canada as a refugee. Under President Hugo Chavez, the country has been at odds with the United States and has been the scene of mass protests and violence in recent years.

Lopez started the immigration process in Niagara Falls, but found the system was swamped so he looked for somewhere smaller.

Arriving in Yellowknife in November 2004, Lopez stayed in the Salvation Army for his first month because he didn't have any money. He got a work permit in January and hasn't looked back. He works two jobs and recently started to rent a trailer.

"I have a life, I pay my taxes and my bills and I have friends," he said. "How would you feel if I went to you and told you that you had a week to go?"

According to officials at the Canada Boarder Services Agency, Lopez had enough warning.

"We are always reasonable in giving people time to leave," said Fanny Ho, an immigrant enforcement supervisor based in Edmonton.

But even facing imminent deportation, this experience hasn't soured Lopez on Canada. He plans to apply as a skilled worker immigrant. "I love this place, I built my life here," he said.