Refugee family holed up in church for a year

Ilan Brovman, his wife, Irit, and their two children, Tom, 8, and Katrin, 5, have been holed up at...

Ilan Brovman, his wife, Irit, and their two children, Tom, 8, and Katrin, 5, have been holed up at the West Hill United Church, on Orchard Park Dr., for more than a year. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

Tom Godfrey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:33 PM ET

TORONTO - Failed refugee claimants Ilan and Irit Brovman and their two young children have been hiding for more than a year in an east-end church to escape deportation to Israel.

Brovman, 42, his wife, Irit, 40, and their children -- Tom, 8, and Katrin, 5 -- are receiving some support from members of West Hill United Church, where they've been holed up in a basement apartment for more than a year.

The family shares two comfortable rooms and have many of letters of support from two churches as well as community groups, leaders and politicians.

They claim they rarely venture outside since their biggest fear stems from officers from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) raiding the church and removing them for deportation.

"It has been a very difficult year for us," Ilan said, adding he lost 10 kilograms from a hunger strike that he began on June 26.

"We are scared and my wife and kids haven't left this church for the entire time."

The family spoke exclusively to QMI Agency, claiming they are frustrated raising their children indoors while hiding from border officials.

Brovman said a threat of deportation led to the children not attending school for six months. Instead, they were taught by congregation members. The kids are only now allowed to attend school.

The Brovmans arrived in Canada from Israel in 2007 and filed failed refugee claims at Pearson Airport.

Appeals on humanitarian and compassionate grounds were also unsuccessful.

They were slated to be removed in July 2011 but sought asylum in the church.

The couple had established a thriving cleaning business in Toronto that went bust after their work permits were revoked.

Brovman, who has recently moved from the church, is in the second week of a hunger strike to remain in this country.

"I don't plan on eating until something happens to us," he said. "We are afraid the border services will storm into the church and take us and put us on a plane."

Brovman said his family left Russia in 1992 for Israel, where he alleges they were singled out, insulted or assaulted for having a Jewish surname while not being Jews.

He claimed they had suffered enough and moved to Canada for a better life.

"We are concerned about the racism since we are Russians and not Jews living in Israel," he said. "We have been working hard in Canada and trying to be model citizens."

CBSA officials have ordered the family to show up at a Malton, Ont., immigration office on Wednesday to make arrangements for their deportation.

The agency said its mandate is to ensure Canadian immigration laws are upheld.

West Hill United Church minister Gretta Vosper said her congregation voted in June 2011 to allow the Brovmans to stay at the church. "Mr. Brovman was deeply troubled by the thought of returning to Israel," Vosper said in a letter. "The threat that his children would experience the abuse while living there was overwhelming for him."


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