'Where are our families?' Refugee sponsor groups frustrated by delays

Sponsorship groups have worked hard to raise funds to bring refugee families to P.E.I., but are frustrated with ongoing delays.

Apartments were rented for refugees months ago, but they still haven't arrived

The Central Christian Church in Charlottetown is part of a Christian sponsorship group which has raised enough money to sponsor 3 families. (Laura Meader/CBC)

They've poured their hearts, souls and wallets into preparing for the arrival of refugee families on P.E.I., but now all they can do is wait and wonder.

It's been a frustrating experience for some sponsorship groups still waiting to welcome the refugees, says Central Christian Church Pastor Callum Beck.

"We've got the money, we've got the people, and we just want to help these families," said Beck, whose sponsorship team is made up of about half a dozen churches.

Some have waited 2 years

Dan Doran, volunteer co-ordinator for private refugee sponsorship with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Charlottetown, said some sponsors have waited more than two years. Many thought the families would have been here by now. 

"All the sponsor groups come back to me and say, 'Where are our families?'"

Financial resources of the sponsorship groups are being depleted as the immigration process drags on, Doran said.

Pastor Callum Beck said his group is tired of being in waiting mode. (Laura Meader/CBC )

The sponsors have names and photos and approval for families to come — but the families remain overseas, caught up in delays in the final stages of the immigration process.

"The complications are beyond," Beck said. "This is just so frustrating."

The Central Christian sponsorship group had hoped to bring in three different families from Iraq and Syria to P.E.I.  They even had an apartment rented and stocked with everything for the first family, whom they expected from Iraq six months ago.

'How much money do you keep wasting'

Beck said the Toma family had contacted them in April believing they would be heading to P.E.I. in the coming weeks. 

How much money do you keep wasting when you have no idea when the family is going to come?- Pastor Callum Beck

"They had talked with the ambassador and said they had been accepted, so we got ready," Beck said.

As time dragged on, they realized the family would not be coming anytime soon. 

"The apartment, we had to sublet it for two months — now we have to see if we can get another sublet," Beck said. 

"How much money do you keep wasting when you have no idea when the family is going to come?"

The frustration level is huge, he said, and he's worried that volunteers will lose interest. 

The Toma family is an Iraqi refugee family, They fled Mosul in the summer of 2014. (Christian Sponsorship group)

"You've got a private group who are so motivated but all our motivation is being taken away from us," he said.

The Kensington and Area Refugee Sponsorship Initiative has been connected for a year to a Syrian family now living in Turkey. 

"The processing times just continually get delayed," said Patricia Bennett, co-chair of the group.  

"We're quite disappointed." 

At one point, she said, they thought the family would arrive last January. 

The Kensington and area sponsorship group held numerous fundraisers, like this yard sale in May. (Kensington and Area Sponsorship Initiative)

She said visa processing time is much longer than what they expected. Her group also rented a house and gathered furniture. They've now given notice and moved everything out. 

"We worked really hard to raise the $30,000 that we had to have before we could make application for a family," Bennett said.

Plans to pressure government

Various sponsorship groups say they are planning to pressure government to do more to speed up the immigration process. The groups want better information on when families could be coming. 

"We're very concerned and we hope to have them here as soon as possible," Beck said.

In an email to CBC News, the federal Department of Immigration says it is working to improve communication with refugee sponsors, and cautions groups not to start paying for accommodations too early in case circumstances change.

About the Author

Laura Meader

Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.