Year of delay prompts NS woman to meet refugee family in person
It’s been more than a year since a privately-sponsored Syrian refugee family of four was expected to arrive in Halifax, but a backlog of applications has left their arrival date unknown, prompting one woman to take a journey of her own to meet the family in person.
“I think we do have a duty as humans to reach out and help people who have no options,” said Stephanie Gillis, an employee with Southwest Properties.
The Nova Scotia development company created an internal group called the Southwest Family alliance to help with the refugee crisis by privately sponsoring a Syrian family. They were eventually matched in December 2015 with a young family made up of a father with an agricultural engineering degree, a mother, and two young children, Gillis said.
She said their application was received by the Department of Immigration shortly after the match. The family said they were then contacted in February 2016 by the Canadian Embassy in Jordan, where they had fled during the war.
“They said, ‘we were told to be ready to travel within two to three weeks.’ They started selling their belongings, getting rid of their stuff and then have been still waiting,” Gillis said.
The Southwest Family alliance group had everything ready to go for the family’s arrival, including setting up their apartment, but the application is still waiting to be finalized.
Maintaining a connection
To keep the connection with the family alive during the waiting process, Gillis decided to travel to Jordan at the beginning of this year to meet them.
“I wanted to have that connection because when you know someone and you’ve met someone, then you’re emotionally invested,” she said.
She said the trip reignited her desire to keep fighting for the arrival of the family and helping with the refugee crisis.
“The frustrating part is the rushed feeling of being told they’re coming, getting the apartment ready and then waiting and not knowing,” she said. “If we knew at that time that it was going to be a year or two delay, then you’d plan for that.”
Gillis said she spoke with a Department of Immigration employee to ask for an update on the application but was disappointed with the response.
“His answer was kind of like, ‘well we don’t know how long it’s going to take and maybe they won’t even come,'” she said.
According to the Government of Canada’s website, 17,912 refugee settlement applications are waiting to be processed.
It’s all part of a “strained” system, according to Jacqueline Bonisteel, an immigration lawyer from Ottawa.
“I believe some of it does result from the fact that we accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees in very short order,” Bonisteel said.
Bonisteel said despite the backlog of applications, Canada is an international leader when it comes to immigration.
“I think as Canadians we have a lot to be proud of in terms of our response to the international refugee crisis and our private sponsorship program in particular,” she said.
“But of course as we see with all these delays, it’s not perfect and there’s still work to be done.”
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