For Ilan and Irit Brovman, fear of being deported to Israel, where they claim they suffered from discrimination because they are not Jewish, has led them to seek sanctuary in a Canadian church. The couple, along with their two children — Tom, 8, and Katrin, 5 –  have been living for more than a year in a church in a Toronto suburb to escape arrest and expulsion.

The Brovmans arrived in Canada from Israel in 2007 and filed refugee claims upon landing at the airport. The claims were rejected and subsequent appeals on humanitarian grounds were also unsuccessful. They were slated to be deported in July 2011 but sought asylum in the church.

The family, which moved to Israel from Russia in 1992, claimed they suffered from discrimination by Israelis because they were not Jewish. “We tried to go to the police and we tried to talk to teachers. People just refused to believe the fact that our son was beaten because he’s not Jewish,” said Ilan Brovman in an interview to the Toronto Sun on Sunday.

“We are concerned about the racism since we are Russians and not Jews living in Israel,” he said. “We have been working hard in Canada and trying to be model citizens.”

Brovman began a hunger strike on June 29. “I don’t plan on eating until something happens to us,” he said. “We are afraid the border services will storm into the church and take us and put us on a plane.”

“It has been a very difficult year for us,” said Brovman. “We are scared and my wife and kids haven’t left this church for the entire time.”

West Hill minister Gretta Vosper told the Sun her congregation voted in June 2011 to allow the Brovmans to stay at the church.

“Mr. Brovman was deeply troubled by the thought of returning to Israel,” Vosper said in a letter. “The threat that his children would experience the abuse while living there was overwhelming for him.”