A Hamilton couple has run headlong into a bureaucratic roadblock in its attempt to adopt a two year old girl from the former Yugoslavia.

Karen Ann Moore and her husband Rudy Guerra have waged an 18-month battle against Canadian immigration official to bring two-year-old Ishara Carys Jelena Guerra to Canada.

Karen Ann, a medical researcher at McMaster University, and Rudy, a computer technologist, are nearing the end of their patience with what appears to be an uncaring immigration bureaucracy. Despite full compliance with international adoption rules, the couple is no closer to their goal then they were 18 months ago.

“We want the matter expedited as soon as possible,” Karen Ann told The Interim. “The longer this process takes, the more difficult it will be for Ishara to adjust to her new surroundings.”

Karen and Rudy had good reason for optimism after adopting a son, Aiden, from Yugoslavia in 1992. The process was completed in a matter of weeks, and today four-year-old Aiden is making a smooth adjustment to a new life in Canada. At the time, Karen Ann and Rudy were the first non-Yugoslavians in Canada to adopt a child from the war-ravaged country

When Karen Ann and Rudy learned through a lawyer in Yugoslavia that Ishara was available for adoption, the couple anticipated a similar result. Instead, their attempt to bring Ishara to Canada has been marked by delay, frustration, and growing disenchantment with Canada’s immigration system.

“All we want to do is give a little girl a chance for a netter life in Canada, Karen Ann said. “We can’t understand why this should be so complicated.”

Ishara was put up for adoption after her 14-year-old biological mother was attacked by soldiers in Knin, Croatia, a scene of some of the worst battles in the civil war. The child spent her first nine months in hospital where she was afforded at best minimal care.

When continuing civil war violence threatened Ishara’s hometown, the child was moved to the Serbian safe hold Baja Luka. She was left at a mental hospital, the only institution with room to care for her. For the next nine months, Ishara living in a small crib, and was given only bottled water and sugar. The child received little attention from the staff of four who were overwhelmed with the 150 children residing at the institution.

Karen Ann and Rudy traveled to the former Yugoslavia last November to visit Ishara and to help speed up her application. Although they had the opportunity to spend time with Ishara, the trip only heightened their sense of longing. The couple hoped they might bring their daughter home, if not by Christmas, then by Ishara’s birthday in mid-April. They are now aiming at a May reunion, but even that date is threatened by continued bureaucratic foot dragging.

At issue is the lack of official adoption agreement between Canada and the newly proclaimed republic of Krajina. Although the Krajina government sanctioned the adoption, Canadian officials are uncertain of its legality. Until the question is settled, Karen Ann and Rudy wait and wonder about the effect on the delay on Ishara’s wellbeing.

Rienold Gregoire, an immigration official at the Canadian embassy in Belgrade, told the Hamilton Spectator the Ishara adoption case has become extremely complicated. He wouldn’t say if Karen Ann and Rudy can ever expect an immigration will be issued for Ishara.

Desperate for some action, Karen Ann and Rudy took their case to a private investigator. The investigator completed a thorough check of the couple’s background to make sure there was nothing there to give pause to immigration officials. “They came across looking like Ozzie and Harriet Nelson,” the investigator told The Interim, “There was nothing in their background or in their financial situation that would be cause for concern to any adoption agency. It would become more apparent that the delay was simply the result of government bureaucracy.”

Meanwhile, Karen Ann and Rudy managed to have Ishara moved to the care of a foster family in Novi Sad, outside Belgrad. And while Karen Ann and Rudy provide money to the family for Ishara’s support, a number of problems remain.

“Ishara is now living with a family of four and the mother is doing her best, but it’s not the same as caring for her own children,” Karen Ann said. “We’re concerned for Ishara’s development and socialization in that kind of environment. She’s already showing developmental problems.” Karen Ann is also concerned over the disorientation the child will experience if and when she is reunited with her new family in Canada.

One factor in Ishara’s favour is Karen Ann’s feisty approach to perceived wrongs. She has contacted her local Member of Parliament Beth Phinny (Lib., Hamilton Mountain), and former deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps (Lib., Hamilton East) in the hope of getting results. Although both were slow to get involved, there are beginning to take more interest in Ishara’s plight.

Alice Willems, a spokesperson for Sheila Copps said the she is studying the adoption case and plans to present it on behalf of Karen Ann and Rudy to Immigration Minister Lucien Robillard.

“This is proving to be a very complex case that has been bogged down in red tape, but Ms. Copps and Ms. Phinney are interested in seeing it resolved,” Willems told The Interim.

To gain more support for their case, Karen Ann and her supporters have circulated a petition addressed to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Sheila Copps, and the federal immigration minister. The petition refers to Ishara as “a victim of the inefficient bureaucracy pf the Canadian government,” and calls on officials to grant her landed immigrant status. To date, the petition has been signed by more then 1,500 supporters.

Karen Ann said her business-like approach to the adoption is a defense mechanism against feelings of separation and loss stirred up by the bureaucratic nightmare. She and Rudy have drawn strength from friends and supporters, but the realize that the longer the affair is drawn out, the worse it will be for Ishara.

“We have to deal with this as a business transaction,” Karen Ann said. “There is a lot of sadness involved here, but we are trying to ignore it. We can’t let emotions get in the way. We have focus on getting Ishara here and that requires hard work and determination, not emotion.”

While Karen Ann and Rudy deal with the hard realities of international adoption, they question the motivation of bureaucrats and embassy officials who seemingly make arbitrary decisions effecting people’s lives.

“Our government has a reputation for protecting people at home and abroad, Karen Ann said, “But they are failing us in this case. Where is the compassion in denying a little girl the chance to be with her parents?”