A community and political effort is taking place to help a mother who lost seven children in a Halifax house fire by bringing family members from overseas to Canada.
The children, ranging in age from four months to 14 years old, were killed early Tuesday when fire swept through their Spryfield home.
Their father, Ebraheim Barho, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries and their mother, Kawthar Barho, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The family had come to Canada as privately-sponsored refugees from war-torn Syria in 2017 and initially settled in Elmsdale, N.S.
The group that sponsored the Barho family and the family’s imam have indicated that Kawthar has asked for extended family to be brought to Canada to be by her side. Specifically, she mentioned her mother and brother. Their whereabouts are unclear but are described to be somewhere between Raqqa, Syria and Lebannon.
Other family members are said to currently be in Italy.
Kawthar has no other family in Canada, and her husband remains in critical condition in hospital.
Speaking at a funding announcement in the Halifax area on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has been looking into the case.
He told reporters that while the immigration system is based on “rules and principles that are fairly applied right across the board,” it’s also a system that is “compassionate and there are opportunities to look into specific cases.”
“I cannot speak about specific cases given privacy concerns, obviously, but I can tell you that this is a case that the minister is giving personal attention to and we are looking at what can be done within our system to give this family a little solace at a time of unbelievable tragedy,” Trudeau said.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore says he has been working on the file as “quickly as we can.”
Fillmore declined to say where the family members are currently located but said his office is helping to get immigration applications completed Thursday.
“In cases where it’s life and death, there are opportunities to expedite application processes and I think that a very clear case has been made by the community here that this is one of those cases and that’s the advocacy that I’ll be undertaking with the minister,” Fillmore said.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that we get these family members here as absolutely quickly as we can.”
Halifax-based immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wozniak says it isn’t usually simple for someone from a visa-required country to come to Canada.
“We forget it’s not just about buying a plane ticket. There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through if you’re from a visa-required country,” she said.
“There’s a lot of moving parts in terms of documentation required, what the officers overseas are doing, ensuring that person meets all the other requirements, finger prints photographs, bio metrics, admissibility in general.”
Wozniak goes on to say that the process can be shortened in emergency situations, “but generally speaking, even just a visitor visa for someone coming just as a tourist can take anywhere from a couple weeks or a couple months.”
“If there’s a will there’s a way, but it would be exceptional,” she said. “They could approve those visas within hours if they wanted to.”
— With a file from Alicia Draus