Three years ago, Victoria Ordu and Ihuoma Amadi had just gone into hiding in a Regina church.
They were facing deportation after violating their visa conditions, but what followed was more than a year of pleas to the federal government and an outpouring of community support.
Now, the two international students are back at school at the University of Regina. Ordu’s final exam for the semester was on Friday, three years to the day after the pair first sought sanctuary.
Both women say they are concentrating on their studies, although Amadi adds with a laugh that the first thing she did when she got back to Regina was make sure her work papers were in order because she “didn’t want to take any chances.”
Ordu is pursuing health studies and performance art, soon to begin a work placement with St. John Ambulance, while Amadi is into international studies with a focus on foreign affairs. She’ll complete an internship with the UN Association of Regina this summer.
In 2012, deportation orders were issued for Ordu and Amadi to leave Canada, after they unwittingly broke their visa conditions by working off campus. Their appeal to immigration services had been denied, but they argued their penalty – to leave Canada, throwing away two years of education – was too harsh.
For 15 months, they lived inside Regina churches. Always wary for signs of the Canada Border Services Agency, they watched friends graduate ahead of them, unsure of their own futures.
With the backing of the university and the provincial government, week after week the women hoped the federal government would intervene and then-immigration minister Jason Kenney would overturn the deportation order. He didn’t, but their case played a role in changing the work rules for international students; it’s a bittersweet irony for both that the part-time shifts they took at Wal-Mart in 2012 wouldn’t get them into trouble these days.
Eventually, Ordu and Amadi voluntarily left Canada and returned for six months to their native Nigeria, where they waited to see if new applications to study once again at the U of R would be accepted.
When they first spoke with the Leader-Post in September 2012, they were hopeful their situation would be resolved in short order.
A year later, they were weary, emotionally spent and ready to get on with their lives. Now, they both have a Zenlike calm about their time in sanctuary. “Sometimes you need to go down to the very bottom before you can come back up again,” Amadi says. “I don’t see it as a bad thing. It was hard and it was depressing, but I’m glad, looking back, where I am now.” Ordu nods. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says.
“Back then, I kept thinking ‘Why is his happening?’ But who knows? Maybe being in sanctuary meant something else didn’t happen. You can never tell how God is working.”
By this time next year, Ordu and Amadi will have graduated. They might move on to other cities, but in the meantime, Ordu says, “this is home.”
“Giving back to the community is a big deal for me – I have so much I want to give back, because people were there for me,” she says. “People here are family.”