Bosnian orphans in Calgary fearing deportation due to years-old adoption oversight

A pair of Bosnian siblings living in Calgary are afraid they’ll be deported after it came to light their Canadian citizenship has been cancelled.

Severin and Svjetlana Blagojevic were 13 and 10 when they were adopted by their uncle in Alberta in 2015 after losing their parents and spending years in foster care.

Read more: Okotoks family faces child’s deportation: ‘We don’t know what we can do’

Now, their lawyer Kevin Zemp is scrambling to find options after the siblings received a letter in January from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada telling them their citizenship was revoked.

“I was pretty devastated because I didn’t know where we’re going to go from here,” Svjetlana said about receiving the letter.

According to Zemp, the brother and sister had only been “partially” adopted. He also said the home study in Canada was not done.

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“When the federal government looked at those grounds, they felt that the citizenship had been granted improperly, because the adoption hadn’t gone through all the necessary and proper steps,” Zemp said.

Severin said receiving the letter “came down like a hammer.”

“Ripping that out of our life that was just like another loss,” he said.

Severin and Svjetlana Blagojevic are pictured here with their biological parents in Bosnia.
Severin and Svjetlana Blagojevic are pictured here with their biological parents in Bosnia. Contributed to Global News

Svjetlana said the two are very limited in what they can do, adding that even getting enrolled back in school was a struggle without the proper documentation.

“My life is definitely passing by. I can’t really prepare for the future… If I want to do anything like go back to school, to university,” she said. “I don’t feel supported much by the government.”

Severin is also stuck in limbo, unable to go to university or college, or get a job.

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Adoption error an ‘oversight’

Zemp said the adoption was a complicated one, and he believes the error was an “oversight” made by IRCC, which was moving quickly to get the children to a safe new home.

“They’re really the innocent victims of a very complicated bureaucracy and very complicated legal process,” he said.

In an emailed statement, IRCC said it couldn’t comment on the specific case, but understands situations like these are challenging and complex.

“Canada is bound by international and domestic laws on adoptions that are in place to protect the safety and well-being of children in vulnerable situations,” the department said. “Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada must ensure that all cases involving children comply with Canadian law and with our international obligations.”

Read more: Facing deportation, this Ottawa woman uses her time to sew masks to fight coronavirus

Zemp said he’s requested that Severin and Svjetlana be considered for a humanitarian grant for citizenship. In the meantime, they’re working to get the siblings temporary status in Canada so they can continue living their lives.

“Here we have two children that should be looking for work, going to school, attending university [and] building a life that are, quite frankly, stuck in no man’s land,” he said. “They can’t work, they can’t attend school and have no formal status.”

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IRCC said grants of permanent residency for humanitarian and compassionate reasons are considered on a case-by-case basis when people don’t qualify for an immigration program.

“When examining them, the department considers the person’s ties to Canada, the best interests of any children involved [and] what may happen if they are not granted permanent residence,” the department said.

‘This is home for them’

Zemp said delays and heavy workloads during the COVID-19 pandemic are adding to the complications and the timeline for getting the situation resolved, adding IRCC is doing everything it can considering the restrictions.

Read more: Coronavirus: Frozen immigration systems across the globe keeping thousands apart

He said if the applications for temporary status or humanitarian citizenship aren’t successful, there’s a “very good” chance the siblings will be deported — a scary reality for both siblings to consider.

“We don’t really have any family that we have contact with,” Severin said. “We just don’t have a safe space to go back to at the end of the day.”

Zemp said he’s hopeful the case will work out in the siblings’ favour, and they’ll continue to be able to live their lives in Canada.

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“This is home for them. This is where they’ve had their formative years [and] where they’ve grown up,” Zemp said. “They’ve got ties here. They’re successful. They’ve got friends. They’re well-incorporated into society. They’re anxious to contribute. They’re anxious to build a life.”

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