Syrians in Ottawa seek sponsors to reunite families

The Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization says 100 Syrians in Ottawa are hoping to be matched with private groups who can help reunite them with loved ones abroad and bring them to Canada.

About 100 requests for help, but only 10 per cent have been matched with sponsors

Nisreen Trad, a Syrian Canadian, says she's grateful to five Ottawa families who banded together to sponsor her brother. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

The Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization says it has received about 100 requests for help from local Syrians who are desperately seeking sponsors to bring their relatives to Canada.

Ahmad Trad and his family are scheduled to arrive in Ottawa at the end of February after a private sponsorship group filed a "G5" application after meeting Trad's sister, Nisreen.

Most of the requests come from new immigrants or former refugees living in the capital who don't have the financial means to sponsor their loved ones.

"We are trying to take those individuals and groups and introduce them to local families who want loved ones sponsored," said Leslie Emory, the organization's executive director.

So far, the organization has only been able to match 10 per cent of these family-linked cases.

"They are in camps, they're fleeing and they need to be brought to a secure place," Emory said.

You don't know when the next explosion will happen ... you don't know if they will come back.Nisreen   Trad , Syrian Canadian living in Ottawa

Emory said the public may not be aware of the organization's matching program, and that money and the complexity of the private G5 (group of five) application process may be deterring sponsorship groups from offering help. 

Under a G5, sponsors have to raise enough money to house, feed and care for a refugee family for one year.

Many sponsors instead are choosing to look for refugees on the federal government's Blended Visa Office-Referred Program list for economic reasons, because those cases receive six months of government assistance.

Emory said the goal of the matching program is to not just help the refugees overseas, but also provide comfort to relatives buckling under the weight of worry here in Ottawa.

Danger in Syria

Nisreen Trad, 22, was referred to Emory's organization after applying for help on the Refugee 613 website

Trad said she has endured countless sleepless nights trying to figure out how to get her older brother, Ahmad, and his family to safety. 

Nisreen Trad is grateful for the help of five local familes who've banded together to bring her brother to Canada. 0:40

Ahmad fled to Lebanon from southern Syria with his wife and two children in 2011. As a refugee, it's illegal for him to work in Lebanon, said Trad.

 His children aren't allowed to attend school. With their savings, the family could only afford to rent a single cramped room with cracks in the roof and walls, said Trad.

Private sponsorship groups in Ottawa

So far 79 private sponsorship groups have registered with Refugee 613.

Of this number:

  • 17 have already received their newcomers.
  • 24 have been matched and been told their newcomers are coming within the next month or two.
  • 25 say they are ready and waiting for a match.
  • Eight are just getting organized and haven't been approved for sponsorship yet.
  • Refugee 613'sLouisa Taylor estimates there may be as many as 75 more sponsorship groups who haven't yet registered.

"When it rained outside, it rained inside," Trad said, adding that she is feeling increasingly frustrated with her inability to help. 

Trad, a single mother with four children under the age of 11, had recently quit her minimum-wage job driving special needs children to return to school in hopes of getting a diploma in social work or early childhood education.

She said there was no way she could save the more than $30,000 required to privately sponsor her brother's family.

Then last fall, Trad's personal frustration turned to desperation.

Her brother had fled Syria to escape bombs and terrorists — yet that was exactly the danger he encountered in Beirut. In November, two suicide bombers detonated explosives on a busy street in southern part of the Lebanese city. 

Ahmad and his son were in the market buying bread, said Trad, when the blasts shook buildings and killed dozens of people.

"How can I sleep? You don't know when the next explosion will happen. What will happen when they go out of the house? Will they come back?" she said.

'They're angels'

Emory said the sheer magnitude of the crisis has prevented cases such as Trad's from getting the attention of Canadian VISA officials. 

The United Nations has registered 4.6 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, but millions more have fled and are unregistered.

Since Ahmad was one of the refugees living in the city, not in camps, it would have been very difficult for Canadian officials to find him since they didn't even know he existed. 

Shortly after the November explosions, Emory's organization put Trad in touch with a group of potential sponsors.

The group is made up of a several school teachers and administrators. After meeting with her, they committed to raising the money and drafting a settlement plan to bring Ahmad's family to Ottawa.

"They were so nice and helpful and full of love ... to bring people from danger. They're angels," Trad said. 

Last Friday, Trad received a call from her brother. His family had just completed their final medical checks. Visa officials told them they should be on plane to Ottawa by the end of February.

About the Author

Judy Trinh

CBC Reporter

Judy Trinh is a veteran reporter who covers a diverse range of stories from breaking crime news to the strange and off-beat. She aims to find the human element in all her stories. Contact her: Judy.Trinh@cbc.ca