Seven years after arriving in Fort Frances from Croatia, Irena, Ratko, and Marin Loncar have earned Canadian permanent resident status and are looking forward to a bright future here.
The family was congratulated Sunday evening during a potluck supper at Knox United Church here.
“After seven years of fighting for permanent resident status and being refused every time we applied, it was a long journey,” noted Irena, adding “it feels really good” to finally earn Canadian permanent resident status.
“It’s a big relief,” she smiled.
Irena said one of the best parts of coming to Fort Frances has been the people who have welcomed her family with open arms.
“It’s a really nice community,” she enthused. “The community actually supported us every time we had trouble with applications.
“We had help from Mr. Hampton, Mr. Rafferty, and Mr. Boshcoff, too.”
Irena admitted it was a little difficult to adjust when the family first came here, with the differences in language and culture, but it was not as difficult as it could have been because they always had the support of friends, the church, and others.
“It wasn’t so hard. Everything was a big change but they helped us,” she reasoned.
“[The community] is friendly. From the beginning, when we came, we didn’t speak [English] very well,” added Irena, noting when she started to work at Wal-Mart, the job required a lot of talking.
But she always had support and help from others as she learned the new language.
The couple’s son, Marin, 13, is a Grade 8 student at St. Francis School. Unable to speak English at all when he first came here seven years ago, Marin now is doing very well in his classes, has been part of the student council and drama club, and keeps active participating in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and cross-country running.
The Loncars will become full-fledged Canadian citizens in two years, and have every intention of staying in Fort Frances.
“We’ve had plans for the last seven years, but we always had to put them on hold because we couldn’t do anything before we got permanent resident [status],” said Irena.
“We plan to buy a house—I think that’s going to happen pretty soon.
“And then we’ll really start to see what we can do with other occupations . . . and we are making plans for [Marin] for the future,” she added.
“But we are definitely staying here. We’ve found our place here,” she stressed.
“I really enjoy it here,” echoed Ratko. “I grew up in the big city, and I really enjoy that it’s a peaceful community.
“Very friendly. Unreal. Different than Europe.”
“It’s a better future. You can build a better future here, especially for [Marin],” added Irena.
The Loncars’ journey to make Canada their new home began 10 years ago when they made their first application to emigrate to Canada. It was not approved.
Over the next few years, several more applications under different categories also were turned down.
After all these refusals, Irena’s cousin, Bosko Stopa, and his family (who came here from Croatia in 1997), along with other people here in Fort Frances who were involved in helping them meet the immigration requirements of the Canadian government, became very frustrated and asked then MP Bob Nault what could be done.
Nault intervened and the immigration minister at the time issued the Loncars a special ministerial permit, under which they were given a three-year temporary resident status.
The downside to this special permit was they had to spend a few years without medical coverage, which was worrisome for the family.
It was then, with the help of MPP Howard Hampton, MP Ken Boshcoff, and their respective staffs, that they were able to overcome the barriers they encountered.
Hampton, in particular, was helpful, hiring an immigration lawyer to advise them and lobbying the provincial government to change the rules regarding ministerial immigration permits with regards to provincial health care.
As well, Mary Kozorys, assistant to Boshcoff and now local MP John Rafferty, took her assistance to a personal level and provided much advice over the years.
On behalf of the congregation, Dave Hickling congratulated the Loncars on Sunday evening.
“This evening we join Irena, Ratko, and Marin in celebration of their new status in Canada,” he noted.
“Special thanks to Bob Nault, John Rafferty and Howard Hampton, Mary Kozorys, Ken Boshcoff, and all those in the community who have cheered them on in their journey,” Hickling added.
“We look forward to celebrating again with them in two years when they become Canadian citizens.”