Syrian refugees: Private refugee sponsor says process costly
Private sponsors are financially responsible for the people they bring to Canada
It was only because Feras Hariri stayed late at his in-laws' house that he and his family weren't killed by a Syrian government air strike that destroyed his home, says his brother Anas.
A rebel group had taken over the northwestern town of Edlib from government forces and the Assad regime began bombing indiscriminately "in revenge," Anas said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"He refused to take sides," Anas, 36, said of his brother. "And then he started receiving threats from both the government and the rebel group."
Shortly after, Anas started to put together an application to sponsor Feras, 41, his spouse and their three children to come to Montreal.
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The process to privately sponsor a refugee is tedious and complex, said Anas, adding that refugees with family and friends in their host country will find it much easier integrating than the thousands of government-sponsored refugees expected shortly in the country.
Quebec said it will accept 3,650 Syrian refugees before Dec. 31 and another 3,650 in 2016.
Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil has said $29 million in 2015 has been set aside for the arrival and integration of the refugees, who are expected to settle in 13 different Quebec communities.
Anas said he had to hire a lawyer to put together the paperwork, which took about four months, and once the Canadian government received the documents, processing took another year.
Feras and his family arrived in June 2015 after having relocated to a camp in Lebanon or Jordan following the bombing of their residence.
Anas said he was told private sponsors could only welcome Syrian refugees who were living in Lebanon or Jordan. Individuals had to make applications through a recognized third-party organization such as the one he chose, Action Réfugiés Montréal.
Private sponsors are financially responsible for the people they bring over for the first year and Anas had to deposit $12,000 with the refugee organization in order to welcome his brother's family. He said the group will refund the money within 12 months of Feras' arrival.
Finding a school and apartment
Feras and his family are lucky: Anas found them an apartment and paid for most of its furnishings, registered him and his wife for French-language classes and co-ordinated the children's schooling.
Anas said he contacted a Montreal school board, which had a special office dedicated to evaluating refugee children. If students don't meet the French-language requirement, the kids must enrol in what's known as "host classes" in order to acquire the sufficient amount of French to be allowed to enrol in a proper class.
He said the youngest of the three children, who is seven, is just about ready to begin "normal" classes after less than six months learning French.
The two other kids, who are 13 and 14, still need a little more studying time.
Anas, who immigrated to Montreal from France eight years ago, had a few pieces of advice for new arrivals.
"The first step is to breathe slowly," he said. "Don't demand the maximum from yourself. Take your time, find a home, find a school for your kids, and start to understand your new society."