A group in Charlottetown looking to sponsor three refugee families and help them escape the violence in Syria is frustrated by delays that have so far gone on for 18 months.

The three families are from Iraq, but fled to Syria eight years ago, only to be faced with violence there as well. Charlottetown's Catholic Diocese started the process to bring them to Canada early in 2012.


Given the violence in Syria, getting refugees to Canada should be a priority, says Dan Doran of the Charlottetown Diocese refugee committee. (CBC)

"We understand there are wait times, but you know, given the situation in Damascus … we'd like to see their applications moved along, expedited," said Dan Doran of the Catholic diocese's refugee committee.

The diocese had hoped the three families would have been safely on the Island long ago, but now it is no longer even certain where they are. The last time Doran heard from them, in an email in the spring, they were still in Syria's capita, held up in a refugee camp as they had been for years.

Doran said one family has since made it to Australia. The other two are likely still in Syria, amidst the escalating violence and civil unrest.

"There's just not much information from the government on when families can be processed and sent here," said Doran.

"It just causes a lot of fear and anxiety."

In an email to CBC News, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it's working as fast as it can to process refugee applications, but there are challenges. Canada shut down its visa office in Syria a year a half ago due to the violence there at that time. The department says, as the dangers have escalated, processing applications has become even tougher.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is discussing how to best respond to the Syrian crisis with other world leaders this week. Doran said devoting more resources to getting refugees to Canada should be a priority.

"We already have a process in place to get them here and have people wanting to accept them here," said Doran.

"I would think that would be the impetus for getting people here quicker."

According to the Canada's immigration website, getting the families to P.E.I. could take at least another four months.