Florin and Cristina lordache were ordered by Canada’s immigration officials to be at Toronto’s Pearson international airport last Friday with their two young children, born in Canada, for deportation to Romania.

Instead, to avoid returning to persecution they feared as members of the Roma minority, they are believed to have boarded a small boat in Akwesasne, a First Nations reserve, for a risky ride across the St. Lawrence River on a blackmarket smuggling trip into the United Sates.

It was a disaster.

The bodies of Florin and Cristina, both 28, and Evelin, 2, were found near a marshy riverbank on Thursday; the mournful bundle of one-year-old Elyen’s body was recovered Friday.

Florin was carrying the Canadian passports for their children, according to Akwesasne Mohawk Police.

They are among eight migrants who died, apparently when the smuggling boat they were in capsized. Along with the Iordache family was a family from India: A father, Praveenbhai Chaudhari, 50; a mother, Dakshaben, 45; and two children, daughter Vidhi, 23; and son Meet, 20.

“I cannot imagine that decision, to get into that small boat with nine people, by the sounds of it, not knowing what’s going to happen. Then the fear they must have all been experiencing — you shudder,” said Peter Ivanyi, the Iordache’s Toronto immigration lawyer.

“This is an especially sad case because there are children, and they’re Canadian children.”

In the almost five years they were in Canada, Florin had a history of illegal crossings into the United States and a troubled immigration history.

Florin and Cristina Iordache arrived in Canada on June 9, 2018, and made refugee claims. Cristina was also known as Monalisa Budi. They settled in Toronto.

A month later, however, Florin was found by U.S. immigration authorities on a freight train crossing from British Columbia into Washington state. He jumped from the train and bolted, before being caught, arrested, and fingerprinted, according to immigration documents obtained by National Post.

He was deported back to Romanian from the United States and was legally married to Cristina, who had been his common-law spouse for five years, and returned to Canada seven months later, using different married names, the government alleged at a detention review hearing in 2021, where he was represented by a different lawyer.

This time, he was asked by a Canada Border Services Agency officer if he would willingly return to Romania if he was ordered out of Canada.

“No, never. I am not going back. I cannot accept something like that. I am even afraid when I hear such a thing,” he said, according to immigration documents. 

In March 2021, Canada considered his refugee claim abandoned after he failed to appear at his refugee hearing, according to immigration documents.

Six months later, Florin, with a seven-months pregnant Cristina and their first baby, were caught again by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Washington state after again illegally crossing into the U.S., this time in a vehicle that crossed between official border points. U.S. officials said he told them he was there to make a refugee claim.

They were returned to Canada rather than deported to Romanian because of the pandemic, documents say.

In B.C., Florin told immigration officials they were on a road trip from Ontario and their GPS misdirected them across the border. He said the U.S. officers misunderstood his poor English.

Immigration officials held him in custody and released Cristina to care for their child. At two detention reviews before the Immigration and Refugee Board, the government opposed Florin’s release, arguing he was unlikely to appear for removal if released, and he was held in custody.

On Oct. 22, 2021, there was a joint recommendation for his release.

Both children were baptized at All Saints Romanian Orthodox Church in Toronto, said Father Emanuel Èšencaliuc, the priest.

Florin bought used cars online, fixed them up and resold them to make money as they waited for their asylum claim to be heard.

Their chances might have seemed good. Most Roma claims are accepted due to documented prejudices and discrimination in Europe. But their troublesome immigration history seemed to spoil things.

“They filed a number of applications, all of them under the heading of fear,” said Ivanyi. The couple were passionate about having their children grow up in Canada, where they could be educated and safe.

“Everything he did in Canada was for his kids.

“He made it crystal clear that this was the most important thing for him, to be able to raise his Canadian children in Canada,” said Ivanyi.

Their refugee claim was denied. They then made a humanitarian appeal to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to stop their removal from Canada, which was denied on March 9. The next day, Ivanyi appealed to the Federal Court on their behalf, seeking a judicial review of the decision.

That case had not yet been heard when the family was given a deportation date of March 31, he said. He asked immigration officials to delay the deportation until their case was decided in court.

Ivanyi was told last week that a delay would not be granted, that the family was expected at the airport on Friday, he said.

“I sent that to them by email and that’s the last I heard from them.

“They didn’t tell me they were doing this. I obviously would have discouraged them from doing something like this, but they were so desperate to not have to take their young children back to the misery that the Roma of Romania live under — in terms of housing, no schooling, no running water, police indifference, cruelty.

“They were so desperate they took it upon themselves to undertake this really risky adventure.

“When he felt that opportunity to raise his children in Canada was taken away from him, and that he was actually facing getting on an airplane and having to take them back to that misery, he obviously decided on that road.”

Florin had two brothers who live in the United States, in Florida. Another brother, and his parents, remain in Craiova, Romania. Ivanyi said the family gave permission for him to speak about the case because they wanted their deaths “to mean something,” and perhaps make a difference.

“They undertook a very risky trip and, from my point of view, it shows how desperate and fearful they must have been at returning to Romania.

“It proves their case. It proves, at least subjectively, the fear that they were experiencing, to go to that extreme, and feeling let down by the Canadian immigration system.”

Meanwhile, on Monday night, Akwesasne Mohawk Police said they were set to continue their search for a missing local man, Casey Oakes, 30, who was last seen operating a boat Wednesday night. He was reported missing on Thursday.

It was during a search for Oakes that his boat was found capsized and, nearby, the eight bodies of the migrants were found. Police suspect they were passengers on the boat.

The Akwesasne police are joined in the search by the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, Sûreté du Quebec, and the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department.

There have been marine units, air support, divers, canine tracking dogs and emergency response units involved, searching in and under the water and on land, Akwesasne police said.

Investigators ask anyone with information on where Oakes might be, or what happened, to call Akwesasne Police at 613-575-2340; or, to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

National Post


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