Lovebirds find happy ending at immigration board
Five years later, Eritrean man to be reunited with wife
www.winnipegfreepress.com | June 29, 2017
Nearly five years after finding his soulmate, 53-year-old Tekhlu Beraki can finally bring his wife to Canada.
On Wednesday, he convinced the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s appeal division his marriage to 34-year-old Ainom Weldegebrel is true love and not a scam.
“She’s smart, she’s beautiful and she’s a family woman — she has a plan to establish a family,” Beraki told adjudicator Benjamin Dolin at a hearing in Winnipeg.
Beraki and Weldegebrel were married in May 2013 in Khartoum, Sudan, and Beraki helped her apply for a permanent resident visa to join him in Manitoba.
A Canadian visa officer who interviewed his wife in July 2014 and decided she didn’t know enough details about her husband, didn’t have receipts for the cash he sent to support her and questioned their 19-year age difference.
In August 2014, the visa officer ruled the marriage wasn’t genuine, and rejected her application.
Beraki was crushed. “In the first 11 months, we were very hopeful. After the visa officer rejected her, it was financially draining and psychologically depressing,” said Beraki, who had never before married or had children.
“I was more traumatized over the last three years than the last 24 years as a refugee,” he testified Wednesday.
While apart, he’s been sending Weldegebrel $400 a month so she can study English to get ready for life in Canada, in addition to paying legal fees to try to overturn the visa officer’s decision. It was one more struggle for Beraki, who was forced by conflict to flee his home country, Eritrea, 33 years ago.
“I was a refugee in Sudan for 24 years before I came to Canada,” he said, adding it wasn’t a good time to marry or have children. “The refugee life was really tough.”
His church played a big role during his time in Sudan and he formed lifelong friendships. After being privately sponsored to come to Canada in 2008, he arrived as a refugee.
He worked as a security guard in the building on Broadway where Wednesday’s hearing took place. He worked in construction and went to school and took a job as a support worker in Dauphin. He worked hard and saved money with the goal of finding a soulmate and starting a family. He didn’t meet anyone compatible in Manitoba who spoke Tigrinya and was Pentecostal, Eritrean and ready to start a family.
“The best chance for me was to go back to Sudan,” he said.
Beraki told his friends, including a church pastor, he was going back hoping to find the love of his life in the 82 days of banked vacation time he’d saved up. He arrived in Khartoum in April 2013. Within a few days, friends of Beraki’s pastor hosted a traditional coffee ceremony at their home — where he met Weldegebrel.
The then-30-year-old hairdresser from Eritrea was working as a janitor in Khartoum and had never married or had children. In addition to being attractive, her values appealed to Beraki.
“We believe in having a good faith,” he said. “She’s a dedicated church member.”
They socialized and Beraki became convinced she was the one. When he proposed to her, she took three days before saying yes, he said. They were married May 25, 2013.
They had 400 guests attend the wedding at the bride’s church, as the groom’s pastor had invited his church members and their families, said Beraki, who paid for the wedding and a professional photographer.
The photos of guests were one of the reasons the visa officer suspected the wedding was a sham, transcripts show. When he interviewed Weldegebrel, he asked if she knew them. She replied honestly she did not.
When the visa officer asked if she didn’t think the age gap between her and her spouse was “huge,” she replied: “It does not matter.”
When he asked what they talk about, she said: “Life.”
When he asked again what the couple liked to talk about, she said: “Schooling” — because her husband was encouraging her to take language classes.
Beraki said the Canadian visa officer who travelled to Addis Ababa from Nairobi to interview his wife lacked an understanding of their culture and conservative values and how their system of transferring money works. When he sends money to her, he receives a printed receipt, but she does not.
When asked what Beraki would do if his wife was not allowed to come to Canada, Beraki said he’d be forced to “deport myself” to Africa and join her.
At the hearing, several failed attempts were made to connect Weldegebrel — who now lives in Kampala, Uganda — with a Tigrinya-speaking IRB interpreter based in Vancouver. After hearing Beraki’s testimony, though, the lawyer representing the federal government and the IRB adjudicator agreed they were was satisfied the marriage is genuine and they did not need to hear from Weldegebrel.
“The credibility of the appellant goes a long way in affirming how the relationship developed,” Dolin said. “He was a thoughtful and intelligent witness… He does not believe she is duping him or using him to get to Canada.”
Beraki proved their marriage was a genuine relationship, said Dolin, who overturned the visa officer’s decision.
“Best of luck,” he wished Beraki, who broke into a big smile and pumped his fist in the air after the case adjourned.
“I expected the decision,” he said, eager to leave the hearing room and call his wife with the good news.
Weldegebrel will have to go through another security check and health screening before she’s granted a permanent resident visa, Beraki said.