NEW LONDON – When Patricia Bennett reads the message from Syrian refugee Mohammed, it’s hard for her heart not to break.
“Every day my children ask me when we can go to Canada and play in the snow,” Bennett read aloud.
Since early 2016, Bennett, co-chairwoman of the Kensington Area Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (KARSI) and other volunteers, has been working tirelessly to bring Mohammed, his wife and two children to Kensington.
But unfortunately that hasn’t happened.
It’s been about 13 months since the application for the Syrian family had been processed.
“It works like you’re on hold. But instead of telling you you’ll be next, in say, 20 minutes, it’s saying you’ve already waited 20 minutes and you must continue to wait,” she explained.
Bennett is not allowing herself to think about what happens if the family does not arrive.
“That seems so insurmountable. It’s something we won’t let happen. We feel responsible after putting months of work into getting them here.”
The process to bring the family began when KARSI formed and filed a private citizen sponsorship application.
The family, originally from Damascus is currently living in Ankara, Turkey.
“Canada is one of the only countries that allows private citizens to sponsor refugees. That is something that is uniquely Canadian.”
Bennett quickly learned the amount of money that needed to be raised in order to take care of the family for one year, what supplies they would need and just how supportive and accepting the community was.
“We had people donating money, supplies, furniture whatever they could.”
Then, as the federal Liberal government took office, she and KARSI felt encouraged to push for their family to come to the Island.
“When the government said they were going to bring in thousands of refugees as quick as they could to Canada it really inspired us to continue with our application. But it feels like as soon as their goal was achieved things were stalled. You can’t promise that people can come to Canada and then not follow through.”
Recently, Bennett and three others involved with bringing refugees to the Island met with Malpeque Member of Parliament Wayne Easter.
“It left us feeling reassured. We spoke to him about our concerns and how having to go around and around has made us and the family feel. It’s a very frustrating situation.”
Easter said he would reach out to the immigration minister as well as Island Senator Percy Downe and other Island MPs to discuss the hold up, said Bennett.
“We did receive a letter from Senator Downe which means a lot.”
One of the most frustrating things is the lack of explanation, said Bennett.
“It’s not even the fact that things have been delayed. It’s that there is absolutely no explanation. They haven’t told us anything. It would be nice to know why they haven’t been able to get their application sent through and what is holding things up.”
It’s been hard on Mohammed, she continued.
“Turkey is not a great place for them to live. They’re not allowed to have a job. They’ve been taken advantage of and have not rights because there is no one they can go to, to plead their case.
Before fleeing Syrian, Mohammed and his wife owned their own businesses. Both are university educated and are fluent in English.
Currently, the soonest the family may be able to get to Canada will be January 2018.
“We were originally told they would be here in January of this year. Then it got pushed to the spring, and then the fall and now if we’re lucky it will be early 2018.
“But as soon as they get here, everything that has happened to get them here will be forgotten. And everyone will need a lot of hugs.”