News / Vancouver

Metro Vancouver families desperate to bring Syrian refugees stuck in Iraq

B.C. has brought in 2,100 Syrian refugees but none from Iraq this year

This Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016 photo, shows Kawergosk refugee camp in northern Iraq.

Alice Martins/The Associated Press

This Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016 photo, shows Kawergosk refugee camp in northern Iraq.

B.C. residents are celebrating the one-year anniversary of Canada’s announcement to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees but some Metro Vancouver families are stuck in bureaucratic limbo while they try to take relatives out of refugee camps in Iraq.

Alison Dudley and a handful of other Lions Bay residents are sponsoring two Syrian families who are stuck in refugee camps, waiting for Canadian refugee officials to interview them.

She says between herself and other private sponsors, there are about 100 Syrian refugees in northern Iraq who have families waiting for them in Metro Vancouver.

“It felt like a really concrete positive thing we could do to help,” said Dudley, who put in her private sponsorship refugee application for the two families with eight children in January 2016 .

“Knowing that here are a lot of Syrians in the Metro Vancouver area who are watching the war unfold and worried about their relatives, knowing that we could help one of our neighbours, a local family here, was really appealing.”

The children’s uncle is a Burnaby resident and has been trying in vain to bring his family to Canada since the Syrian civil war began five years ago. But when the federal government announced it would welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, he hoped his family would be one of the lucky ones.

“They live in dire circumstances. They are waiting for the application to be processed but it’s taking too long. It’s a war zone, its winter, and they live in tents,” said Adnan, who does not want his last name published.  

“Just frustrated. I feel very, very frustrated. It’s been taking too long now for them to get here,” an emotional Adnan told Metro.

The delay is a result of the lack of Canadian immigration staff on the ground in Iraq, said Saleem Spindari, manager of refugee settlement support projects at MOSAIC, an organization that helps newcomers integrate into Canadian society.

“Normally there is an interviewer, but the absence of having an immigration officers on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan complicates things.”

The interviewers help refugee applicants complete a medical exam, security clearance, and criminal record check, explained Spindari, who came to Canada as a refugee in the 90s.

Dudley hopes the federal government will move quickly so that Adnan’s family can arrive in Canada early next year.

“We’d love for them to do more given how many local Syrian-Canadians are still waiting to be reunited with their relatives.”

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