'I want to heal': Chad refugee facing deportation from Canada fears for safety

A refugee who fled from Chad to Canada to seek asylum after surviving an abusive forced marriage and risks to her safety is facing deportation in June.

Mariam Moussa Agrei was 15 when she was married off to a 32-year-old man, a common practice in the African country. When her husband died in 2010, she was expected to follow local custom and marry her brother-in-law.

Instead, she chose to flee.

“I decided to come to Canada because I was forced into a marriage when I was 15 years old, I was abused daily – physically, sexually, emotionally,” Moussa Agrei told CTV National News “In a just world, this is not normal. I was a child.”

Moussa Agrei also worked as a journalist and activist in Chad prior to making it to Canada, drawing attention to sexual and gender-based violence, human rights abuses and illegal detentions.

She says her work made her a target from a government known for its human rights abuses under President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled from the 1990s up until his death in April 2021 from wounds sustained fighting rebel forces.

His son Mahamat Idriss Deby was slated to become the next ruler despite protests that rocked the country in response to the late president’s death.

“As a woman in Chad you don’t have right to school, you don’t have rights to get out of the house without permission of the husband,” she said. “If a woman goes to the police station about sexual abuse they will say to her, ‘Why did you go there? Look at what you are wearing.’ And they will blame her.”

Moussa Agrei said the situation in Chad made her fear for her life -- that she “would be abused, raped or worse.”

So she fled to Canada to seek asylum.

“I chose Canada because it is welcoming to refugees, it is compassionate and I feel like I would be safe and protected here,” she said. “This is the first time that I have been able to seek mental health treatment. In Chad it is taboo.”

“I couldn’t take it anymore. I want to heal. I want to keep getting therapy.”

Now, Moussa Agrei is facing deportation after her asylum claim and appeal were denied.

Her lawyer Swathi Sekhar told CTV National News it was because immigration is “looking for a particular kind of answer, and some people don’t fit in that box.”

A petition on Change.org is calling for a stay of deportation for Moussa Agrei, who is described as being known for her kindness, her understanding and for “giving even when she has nothing to give.”

She told CTV National News about her work volunteering at the YMCA, in homeless shelters and with the UN’s branch in Toronto. “This is my way of saying thank you and giving back…I wanted to contribute and I wanted to be useful.”

Moussa Agrei hopes the petition applies enough pressure for her to stay, as a court date looms ahead and time is running out.

“I feel safe here.”

Moussa was told to book a plane ticket back to Chad, and is scheduled to be deported June 12.

CTV National News reached out to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) regarding Moussa Agrei’s case, asking why – in a pandemic, with travel restrictions and in light of the Canadian government’s own warning to ‘avoid all travel’ to Chad due to armed conflict – the decision has gone forward.

In an emailed statement to CTV National News, the CBSA said they could not go into specific details of the case due to the Privacy Act, but stated “the removal of someone from Canada follows a complex series of processes and recourse mechanisms that afford foreign nationals due process privileges, and it is only after such processes have been exhausted that the CBSA can remove a person from Canada.”

The CBSA said that all scheduled removals which were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year have resumed since November 30, 2020.

Moussa Agrei’s lawyer Sekhar is appealing the deportation decision.

“It’s a deportation to her death.”