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Romanian family’s tragic US attempt


Five years ago, a young Romanian couple arrived in Canada hoping for a new life. But their dream of fresh beginnings came to a tragic end when their bodies, and those of their two children, were recovered from the cold waters of the St Lawrence River. Police believe they, along with a family from India, were making a desperate attempt to reach the US.

Florin Iordache and his wife, Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida, both 28, landed in Toronto some five years ago, part of a wave of Romanians who arrived to claim asylum in 2018 in Canada after it waived visa requirements for visitors from that country.

The couple were from the Roma community, an ethnic group that has been persecuted and discriminated against in Romania and parts of Europe.

Mr Iordache – like many in the Roma community – lacked access to a good education, forcing him to take odd jobs in construction to make ends meet, his lawyer Peter Ivyani told the BBC.

“He and his family were physically assaulted several times in their teens, and then young adulthood,” he said his client told him. “So when the visa (requirement) was lifted, they took advantage to flee.”

But Mr Iordache failed to show up to a hearing for first asylum claim, leaving it abandoned, Mr Ivyani said, noting that he had then lost touch with the family.

He later learned that Mr Iordache was arrested in 2018 by American authorities for trying to cross unlawfully into the US, likely an attempt to join family who had settled in Florida.

Mr Iordache filed a second refugee claim after that incident, in 2020, but just over a year later, he and Monalisa, their first-born in tow, were stopped as they tried once again to cross into the US.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, the family was arrested in Washington State and they were returned to Canada, where Mr Iordache was detained.

During his detention review, Mr Iordache claimed he was not crossing the US to seek asylum, but that his family was making a trip to a nearby park and crossed the border accidentally due to a GPS error.

An adjudicator with Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, however, did not believe him.

Mr Ivyani resumed contact with the Iordache family last year to help them submit a pre-removal risk assessment, a last-ditch effort to prove to Canadian authorities the family would be in danger if they were deported.

In late March, Mr Iordache learned the application to defer he and his wife’s removal had been denied.

Last week, their bodies were found in the St Lawrence River near the US-Canada border, along with those of their two Canadian-born children, aged one and two.

The bodies of Pravin Chaudhary, 50, his wife Diksha, 45, their son Meet, 20, and their daughter Vidhi, 24, who were from the state of Gujarat in India, were also recovered from the water.

Both families are believed to have died trying to reach the US when the boat they were on capsized. Canadian police are still searching for a missing local boater, Casey Oakes, 30, who they believe may be connected to the incident.

Despite his earlier missteps, Mr Ivyani said Mr Iordache tried to do his best to secure a safe life for his family, especially after his the birth of his two children.

“He did everything he could to try to secure not just his and his wife’s future in Canada, but to prevent his kids from having to experience what he did, which is extreme discrimination and persecution in Romania,” Mr Ivyani said.

“I can’t know for sure, but I’m speculating that the unfortunate decision they made was not selfish.”

Death of Indian family leaves relatives in despair

Less is known about why the Chaudhary family, who came to Canada on visitor visas, were attempting to get to the US.

Relatives told the BBC that the family was from Manekpur Dabhala village in Mehsana district of Gujarat.

They said the family had left for Canada on 3 February.

Mr Chaudhary was a farmer who appeared to have been doing well prior to leaving India.

“As far as we knew, they only went to Canada and did not have any plans to go to the US,” Mr Chaudhary’s cousin, Jasubhai Chaudhary, said.

Jasubhai Chaudhary said he feared his family members were among the dead after heard that the bodies of four Indian nationals were found in Canada.

“I was worried and called him,” he said. “But he didn’t answer.”

Their worst fears were confirmed when Canadian police sent an email notifying them about the deaths. Their bodies are now in the process of being returned to India.

The Chaudharys are the second family from Gujarat to have died near the US-Canada border. In January 2022, a family of four was found frozen to death in Manitoba near North Dakota. They were also believed to be trying to enter the US.

Locals have told the BBC that people in Gujarat dream of moving to foreign countries, especially the US, in hope of a better life. Some even fall victim to human smugglers in their desire to reach their goals.

In recent months, unlawful crossings through the US-Canada border have been on the rise.

Authorities in Akwesasne, where the bodies were found, said the area is popular human smugglers because of its geography – the Mohawk territory sits between Ontario and Quebec in Canada and the US state of New York.

Police there have made 48 interceptions involving 80 people trying to enter the US since January.

Source: bbc

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