A Vancouver businessman, who has been trying to bring his Syrian family to Canada for years, says they are finally on their way.
Hisham Wattar, who runs Best Falafel on Commercial Drive, has been trying to bring his sister, two nieces and their two children to Canada on a private sponsorship visa for almost four years.
In September, Wattar told Global News that while his family was stuck in Egypt after fleeing the war in Syria, he received a letter from Immigration Canada in 2014, saying that their refugee application had been approved, but, at the time, authorities said it could take up to 42 months to bring them to Canada.
The family was so desperate to escape that one of Wattar’s nieces even considered getting on a smuggler boat to get out of Cairo this summer.
But just months later, Watter says there has finally been progress on their refugee application.
“Once the government changed hands, things started moving much faster,” says Wattar.
He says his sister and nieces were interviewed as part of their visa application about 1.5 months ago, and after undergoing routine medical and background checks, the family was finally cleared to come to Canada.
They are arriving at the Vancouver International Airport this afternoon.
“I am very happy for them, because their lives have been put on hold since the whole process started four years ago,” he says. “They just can’t believe it.”
Wattar says his sister and nieces will have lots of family help as they settle down in North Vancouver. They already have school lined up for the kids. “It is very exciting for them to finally be able to start their lives properly,” adds Wattar.
Under Stephen Harper’s government, Canada committed to bringing 1,300 Syrian refugees into the country by the end of 2014.
That goal was not met until March 2015. In January of this year, Harper’s government committed to resettling a further 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years.
During this fall’s election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.
After Trudeau came into power, that target was readjusted. The plan now is to bring 10,000 refugees by December 31 and another 15,000 by February. Of the 25,000 that are expected to be brought in by February, 15,000 will be government sponsored.
Wattar says although his family is privately sponsored, he welcomes the news.
“I know they can’t meet their target by the end of December,” he says. “But I think everyone in Canada understands too that the process has to be done the right way. Delaying a month or two, rather than waiting for 42 months, we will take that any time.”
On Monday, Canada’s minister of immigration and citizenship said the country’s resettlement program for Syrian refugees could double its intake by the end of next year to 50,000.