Waheeda Afridi was proud when she became a Canadian citizen nearly a decade ago, but now feels only anger and frustration over a bureaucracy that she says has abandoned her and her adopted son overseas.
The Saskatoon woman and her husband, unable to have children of their own, became guardians of her nephew in Pakistan shortly after he was born there in 2010. But the family has been unable to bring the boy to Canada.
Caught in the middle of changing and confusing Canadian rules around the adoption of Pakistani children, Afridi hasn’t been back to Saskatoon since she and her husband first went to Pakistan to get the child three years ago.
She won’t leave without her little boy, Ajjab.
She says she’d die first.
“I cannot sleep at night. Every night it spins around in my mind: What is going to happen? Are we going to be home soon? When are we going to go back?” Afridi, 38, told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Ankara, Turkey.
“We’re treated like second-class citizens. Nobody cares and nobody worries about you and nobody gives a darn where you are.”
Afridi had been living with family in Pakistan. She and Ajjab were recently able to fly to Turkey on a visitor’s visa.
She says that visa expires in mid-December and she doesn’t know what she’ll do then. She hopes she and her son won’t have to return to Pakistan.
“I hope finally we can get home soon.”
Afridi moved from Pakistan to Saskatoon in 1999 to be with her husband, Ashfaq Afridi, who was already a Canadian citizen. She gained her citizenship a few years later.
The couple tried for nearly a decade to have a child, then looked into adoption.
They were suitable candidates. She had a job at a daycare and he worked as a security guard. They had their own home. Saskatchewan social workers approved them as adoptive parents through a home study.
All they needed to complete the dream was a baby, she says.
In late 2009, she learned that her sister in Pakistan, pregnant with a seventh child, had become a widow and would struggle financially to care for another baby.
The couple offered to adopt the child and flew to Pakistan a few weeks after the boy was born in 2010.
Afridi says her husband returned to work in Saskatoon while she stayed in Pakistan to do the paperwork. Authorities there granted them custody and the couple started working to get everyone home.
It turned into a lengthy, complicated mess. In 2012, after nearly two years, Canada denied the couple’s application for a permanent residence application for their child.
A spokeswoman with the federal Immigration Department says she can’t comment on the case because it’s before the court. But, in general, Sonia Lesage says adoption rules in Canada and Pakistan have “legal incompatibilities.”
Saskatoon lawyer, Haidah Amirzadeh, says she helped the couple file further applications for temporary residence visas and permits for the child, but they were all denied. The Afridis are now seeking a judicial review before the federal court.
In 2012, 22 children adopted in Pakistan were allowed into Canada through permanent residency or citizenship.
But in July 2013 Canada officially closed its doors to children from Pakistan. Adoption authorities in all provinces decided to no longer approve adoptions from the Asian country.
Amirzadeh says it’s heart-breaking for her clients.
“It’s a very difficult situation for them because in some ways they have done everything right.”
She says Waheeda Afridi also has health problems — a collapsed uterus and painful fibroids. She needs surgery but can’t afford medical care in a foreign country.
“She is Canadian. She should be able to jump on the plane and come to Canada, but her three-year-old son has a Pakistani passport. And our government isn’t really being kind to that little toddler.”
Saskatchewan officials say they support the child coming to the province and are encouraging Ottawa to allow it.
Amirzadeh says it’s not enough. She suggests if the province really supports the family, it should push harder.
Ashfaq Afridi recently flew to Turkey to aid his ailing wife and see their boy for the first time since he was a newborn.
It took awhile for the man and child to bond, but Ajjab now calls his father Baba.
His mother, Mama, says the boy is an average kid who sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” knows his English alphabet and likes to watch “Calliou,” a popular Canadian children’s TV series.
He’s also been told about cold, fluffy stuff called snow and how someday he’ll get to see it in Canada. His mother hopes she hasn’t lied.
“What’s wrong with Canada?” says Afridi. “Why are they making such a huge issue about the child?”