WESTMINSTER — A Garden Grove family entered the second day of a hunger strike Tuesday outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service here in a move to pressure officials to grant visas to relatives who escaped from Romania and are now living in Austria.
Ana and Pavel Sandru, Ana's mother and a cousin slept in their car Monday night. The four say they are determined to eat nothing until authorities reverse a decision to deny refugee status to a couple and their two children, who are now in a refugee camp.
INS Los Angeles District Director Robert Moscharak, who oversees the Westminster office, said the matter is in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Austria, which made the denial, and that there is little his office can do to help.
"We don't issue the visas," he said.
The Garden Grove family has appealed to Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) for help, but that effort has met with little success so far.
Gheorghe and Florica Boldoni, their 10-year-old son Florin and 6-year-old daughter Gianina escaped from Romania in June, 1989, before the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu late last year. They are now in a refugee camp in Vienna. Gheorghe is Ana's brother and Florica is Pavel's sister.
The Boldonis first went to Yugoslavia, but they were captured by authorities there. Gheorghe spent two months in jail, Pavel Sandru said, after which the family was allowed to go to Vienna.
They applied for refugee status at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, but finally, after an interview, officials told them in July this year that there was not sufficient evidence that they would face persecution if they returned to Romania. Family members here have been supporting them financially, the Sandrus said, and they say the decision leaves the Boldonis in financial and political limbo.
"They already risked their lives to escape, and now they want them to go back," Pavel Sandru said.
"They have been through so much stress already," Ana Sandru said. "They had to cross a river when they escaped, and they had their two children with them. The kids haven't been able to attend school since then."
According to the Sandrus, authorities at the refugee camp have told the Boldonis that they must leave the camp by the end of the month and that they should return to Romania. The Sandrus say the family cannot return to Romania even though Ceaucescu has been executed.
"It's the same Romania, but with a new president," Pavel Sandru said. "Now it's even worse than before. People don't have money, and they don't have anything to eat."
Sandru and Ana escaped Romania in 1981 and have since become U.S. citizens. Her mother, Maria Boldoni, and the cousin, Gheorghe Talos, joined them later.
Before Ceaucescu was toppled, "it was probably a little easier than now to get a visa, once you escaped Romania and came out as a refugee," said Patricia Fanelli, district administrator for Dornan. "It's always a little difficult because you have to prove a very strong atmosphere of persecution in your country. That's the law."
The revolution a year ago marked the end of the Communist government regime. Romania is still beset with internal problems, however, and street demonstrations are threatening the ability of the new government to carry out political and economic reforms.
Fanelli said Dornan wrote a letter in August to embassy officials in Austria to appeal the denial but that he has not received a response.
She said that, at Dornan's urging, the family enclosed other documents explaining that they have lost confidence in their country.
"They're scared to death that they're going to be sent back to Romania," Fanelli said.
She said the family has been told that they could apply for regular non-refugee visas for their relatives but that because of a backlog, it could be eight years before the relatives would qualify.
The Sandrus are not willing to wait that long. "We will stay here until they are allowed to come in," Pavel Sandru said.