Asylum seeker in Canada for 21 years told he can stay

After 21 years in immigration limbo, Samuel Ndesanjo Nyaga is finally free to live the rest of his years in Canada.

The 74-year-old failed refugee and pillar of Toronto’s Kenyan community has been granted permission to stay after the Star first reported last week that he was being deported on Jan. 4.

“It means a lot because it is what I know,” said Nyaga, his joy spilling through the phone.

“Toronto I can walk with closing my eyes. I am the GPS of this city … This is home.”

Nyaga came to Canada in 2000 seeking political asylum after he says he was threatened and persecuted by the Kenyan government for advocating for access to water and electricity for the rural poor as a member of the opposition Democratic Party, which he’d joined in the early 1990s

When Nyaga joined the party in the early 1990s after decades working at Barclays Bank, Kenya was on the brink of becoming a multi-party state.

In Canada, it took three years for Nyaga’s refugee case to be heard and he was eventually denied because he could not provide a Democratic Party membership card. After a further seven years being juggled around the system, Canadian border agents determined it’d be safe for Nyaga to return home to Kenya. Since then, for more than a decade, he’s been reporting to the border agency office on Airport Road every week, waiting for the day he’d be forced to leave.

Last month, more than 21 years after Nyaga first landed in Canada, he was told he was being deported on Jan 4.

“I don’t have anything left in Kenya,” Nyaga recently told the Star’s Nicholas Keung.

Last month, Nyaga’s lawyer applied for him to stay based on humanitarian grounds, arguing his client was established in Canada and that he would face significant hardship if removed to Kenya.

“We were very, very hopeful that the (humanitarian and compassionate application) would come through and that someone in higher places would see his case,” said Ariel Hollander of Lewis & Associates refugee and immigration law office.

Since it was first reported in the Star, Nyaga’s story has been covered by other print and TV media.

On Thursday, Hollander was notified that Nyaga’s humanitarian and compassionate application for permanent residence had been approved in principle by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Effectively, it means he won’t be removed,” Hollander said.

Nyaga was preparing to leave the country Thursday when he was told he had to report to the border office for his final interview, which had been moved up from Jan. 3.

“I was extremely nervous,” he said. “I was suspecting they might arrest me.”

Now, he’s on his path to becoming a permanent resident.

“My conscience now tells me I am settled and now I start a new life,” he said.

Nyaga, who worked as a security guard and concierge at a condo building on Marine Parade Drive until his work permit expired in 2016, is a fixture at the Kenyan church near Davenport and Old Weston roads, where he goes each Sunday to set up chairs, greet congregants and clean. He volunteers in the kitchen and serves snacks and coffee to the homeless.

He’s eager to get back to his old job, where he says, “There is a chair waiting for me.”

Members of Toronto’s Kenyan Community started raising money in October to hire a lawyer for Nyaga and launched an online petition urging the border agency to stop his deportation, which has since gained more than 4,500 signatures.

“You have to remember that Samuel’s story was unique,” Hollander said. His humanitarian application was approved in about a month — but he says many applicants are not so lucky and get deported before they ever hear back.

Nyaga sends his “sincerest thanks” to everyone who has stepped in and helped him. He said he plans on buying a copy of the Star newspaper that this article appears in to mail home to his brother in Kenya.

“I love Toronto,” he said. “It is our city.”

Correction — Dec. 31, 2021: This article was edited to correct a quote by Ariel Hollander.

With files from Nicholas Keung

Lex Harvey is a Toronto-based newsletter producer for the Star and author of the First Up newsletter. Follow her on Twitter: @lexharvs


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