NEWS

Ebola outbreak continues to strand adopted twins in Sierra Leone

09/17/2014 09:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:56 EDT
An Alberta family say their pleas for Canadian officials to cut red tape and grant citizenship to their stranded adopted twins in Sierra Leone have been met with even more red tape.

Stefan and Kayt Mahon of Canmore say they are being asked to provide documents that are impossible to find during the West Africa Ebola crisis. 

"They said they'd be willing to work with us and to come back with some requests that are divorced from reality … it's a little bit upsetting," said Stefan Mahon.

The Mahons adopted Mbalama (Grace) and Mbatilo (Leo) Konneh from a Sierra Leone orphanage last February. Their biological mother died of a hemorrhage following childbirth. Unable to care for the twins, their biological father placed them in an orphanage and later agreed to the Mahon adoption.

A high court in Sierra Leone​ certified the adoption. As the twins' legal parents, the Mahons started the process of getting them Sierra Leone passports in order to bring them to Canada.

But that process ground to a halt as Ebola spread through the region. So with the twins still living in a locked-down orphanage to keep them safe from the disease, the Mahons began the process of obtaining Canadian citizenship for the children.

More documents requested by Canada

They completed the first stage of the application, but last week they received a reply from the High Commission of Canada's immigration section based in Accra, Ghana, requesting eight more documents before the application could proceed.

Their immigration lawyer says some of the documents requested are non-essential, redundant or even impossible to obtain.

"Some of these documents are difficult to get at the best of times in some of these countries, never mind in a country that's in the middle of a crisis," said Tara Kyluik from her Calgary office.

The requests include one for a report from the hospital in which the children were born "confirming the circumstances" of the biological mother's death.

The Mahons say the twins weren't born in a hospital at all, but in a village called Hanga. Their mother died shortly after childbirth, in a hospital in Kenema, after hemorrhaging.

Hospitals too busy with Ebola crisis

The Mahons say they provided the mother's death certificate with their application. Stefan Mahon said it will be virtually impossible to get more paperwork from the hospital due to the Ebola crisis.

"That's where the Ebola isolation tent is right now. So those doctors and nurses, they have enough to worry about keeping themselves alive and keeping people alive."

Other requests include providing proof the Mahons lived in Sierra Leone for six months and had possession of Grace and Leo for an equal amount of time.

Stefan Mahon says while they were prepared to fulfill those demands, both requirements were waived by a judge officiating the twins' adoption. He wonders why Canadian officials are asking for something a Sierra Leonean judge decided was unnecessary.

"I find it slightly disrespectful of the court system in Sierra Leone that they would second-guess that this judge has ruled this adoption worthy," Mahon said.

"[The judge] deemed this relationship was truly there and unnecessary for us to reside in Sierra Leone."

Trying to get the twins home quickly

Other requested documents are presumably in the hands of various departments of the Sierra Leone government.

"It's a circular problem here," Kyluik said. "Because of the crisis, we're trying to get the children out as quickly as possible and we need the documents to get them out. But, at the same time we can't get the documents because of the crisis."

In its demand for extra documentation, the immigration section stated: "In all international adoptions, it is our responsibility to ensure that the adoption meets the legal requirements of the country from which the children are adopted. This is both to protect the children affected and ensure adherence to the rules of the country in question."

The Mahons' lawyer is asking the demand for extra documents be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

"We really urge the government to cut the red tape here," Kyluik said, "Let's get the basics and get those children out."

Stefan Mahon says the latest setback was dispiriting for his family, but he says they're still hopeful Grace and Leo will be granted citizenship soon.

"We're not trying to circumvent anything. We've done things properly. All we're asking is to bring our children home."

MORE:cbcNews