(JTA) – Some three dozen members of the haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor apparently are living in a small shack in Guatemala after fleeing Canada.
Two adults and six children had fled to the Central American country in March ahead of a court hearing to determine whether the children should be placed in foster care.
But a relative of the children told the Montreal Gazette that he travelled recently from Israel to see the family in the village of San Juan de Laguna, about two hours east of Guatemala City, and counted about 30 adults living in a two- or three-room shack.
The man – referred to as “K” because a youth court has ordered the identities of the children to be protected – spent the month of April in Guatemala tracking down his sister. He made several visits to the shack where the adults were living before he was finally permitted to speak with her.
“Armed with a metal bar for protection, I told her that if she did not come out, I would break in. So she finally agreed to come outside and talk with me,” the man told the Gazette through a Hebrew interpreter.
Through members of the local Jewish community in the village, K found out that the children were sleeping on the dirt floor of the shack and that there is no plumbing. He said they receive barrels of fresh water once a week.
The sect’s Toronto-based lawyer, Guidy Mamann, said Lev Tahor members are feeling unwelcome in Canada and are considering living elsewhere.
“They have an opportunity to find somewhere where they can go,” he said. “I’m sure the group is discussing a number of possibilities. Guatemala is one of them.”
About 200 sect members fled Quebec to Ontario last year ahead of a Quebec youth court hearing to seize some of the children. In the spring, some sect members fled to Trinidad and Tobago just as an Ontario court was to hear an appeal of the Quebec order. They were apprehended and returned to Canada. Those who went to Guatemala were granted temporary refugee status for up to 90 days.