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Great News about the Roma Refugees

Elly and Esme Gotz


Great news about the Roma refugee issue of 2014 and the Pusuma family


Many of our Temple members were involved during the 2011-14 political scandal when a significant number of Roma refugees who had fled Hungary and Czechoslovakia were refused refugee status in Canada. Our Government had declared Hungary a ‘safe Country” even though they were far from safe there and experienced much persecution.


Our Congregation was especially involved with the situation of one family - Jozsef and Timea Pusuma, and their 7-year-old daughter, Lulu. They had been particularly vulnerable while living in Hungary, because they were actively involved in resisting its government's unfair treatment of the Roma, and their lives were threatened. When they fled to Canada, their immigration lawyer totally mismanaged their appeal as he did those of many others, and they were denied landed immigrant status. To avoid being deported back to Hungary, the family took sanctuary for three years in the Windermere United Church with help of its Pastor, Rev. Alexa Gilmour and an extraordinary group of supporters. During this time, the Pusumas appealed again and again to the Law Society and Courts of Ontario to deal with the lawyer who so badly mishandled their case. A class action suit was ultimately initiated against a cabal of immigration lawyers on behalf of some 900 Roma who, through their lawyers' negligence, all lost their applications to remain in Canada.



Esme and I were privileged to meet the Pusuma family when Rabbi Bielfeld, our Rabbi Emeritus, invited the Pusuma family to celebrate the Passover Seder with his guests. This had to be done in secret as the Government was ready to deport them if they were found outside the Church. At the same time a plan was hatched for a “Rally to Free Lulu”. That event was held on May 23, 2014 around the Ajax constituency office of the then Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander. The hundreds of attendees appealed to the Minister to withdraw the expulsion order for the Pusumas’ deportation. Many members of our Temple attended, including Judy Cohen, Bernice Leipciger, Esme Gotz, Maureen Silkoff (a member of our Temple and immigration lawyer active in the case), Leslie Dan and Ken Rosenberg. Nate Leipciger and Elly Gotz addressed the crowd. Shofars were blown as we marched around the Minister’s Office in imitation of the Biblical Jericho. A petition with 40,000 signatures was delivered. But the walls failed to come down, and eventually the Pusumas were deported back to Hungary before their court case was heard.


With the help of the Jewish Refugee Action Network (JRAN) and other organizations, many initiatives were undertaken, including the brokering of an agreement with the new government in Ottawa to bring back the Pusumas from Hungary. That pledge was kept and now, after all these years, three Toronto lawyers who were found guilty of professional misconduct in handling Roma refugee asylum claims have settled the class action suit by their former clients. If approved by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice at a scheduled hearing next month, they will pay a collective half million dollars in total damages to the eligible class members.


We Temple Emanu-El members should take special satisfaction in helping to resolve this injustice to so many refugees. The Roma community is still awaiting an official apology by our Government for its role in this tragedy.



Read the full update from the Canadian Romani Alliance HERE.


Fri, June 18 2021 8 Tammuz 5781