Edmonton parents battle to bring toddler home to Canada

Asaad and Fatima Daoud are missing so much, as day after day their little girl grows up on a cellphone screen.

Toddler born in Jordan while mother was visiting ailing relative

Tuleen, 2, separated from her Edmonton parents since she was 7 months old even though her dad and sisters are all Canadian citizens. (pic of Tuleen) (Supplied)

Asaad and Fatima Daoud are missing so much, as day after day their little girl grows up on a cellphone screen.

Tuleen's first tooth. Her first steps. Joyous milestones, made bittersweet because her parents are not there to see them in person.

For each daily Skype call, the Daoud's and their two older daughters gather around an iPhone in the living room of their north Edmonton home. Tuleen's image and bubbly chatter sparks a shared smile from her parents.

I get this feeling I'll see her soon, but when?- Assad Daoud

But Fatima struggles to hold back her tears.

"I wish every day to hold Tuleen and hug her," says Fatima, who speaks some English, but mostly Arabic, translated by her husband.

"I feel sad and happy at the same time -- happy to see her but sad to not have her in my arms."

The family has been separated for more than half of Tuleen's life, caught in an immigration battle to bring their daughter home.

'How could they allow a baby to be left behind?'

Asaad and the two older girls are Canadian citizens. Fatima is a permanent resident.Their ordeal began in 2013, when Fatima, who was pregnant at the time, made an urgent trip back to Jordan to be with her ailing mother. She was still in Jordan when Tuleen was born.

After her mom died, Fatima had to get back to Canada before her permanent resident card expired. When they went to the Canadian embassy to get Tuleen's paperwork in order, they were shocked to hear they had to do the unthinkable - leave their baby behind.

They pleaded their case on several occasions. Officials were not swayed, insisting they apply for sponsorship from Canada.

"How could they allow a baby to be left behind?" asks Asaad. It's a question he has asked himself many times.

'She's worried about her daughter forgetting her.'

In January 2014, Fatima cried as she kissed her daughter goodbye, leaving her in the care of Asaad's mother. At the Amman airport, she struggled not to turn back. Her husband reassured her, believing the family would soon be together again.

Immigration rules have separated Tuleen from her Edmonton family forcing them to watch her grow up on the screen of a cell phone. (John Zazula/CBC)
Back in Canada, they applied for sponsorship and waited. And waited. Asaad fired off desperate emails to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  No response. He filled out visitor visa applications - all rejected.

Meanwhile, Sereen, six, and Sundos, five, who stayed with their sister briefly in Jordan, can't do the things older sisters usually do - take care of Tuleen, play Barbies with her, show her how to colour inside the lines. Instead, Sundos cradles a framed photo of her little sister, and blows her a kiss over Skype.

"They keep asking about her -- and saying they want to go live with her and take care of her," says Asaad.

Fatima has given away baby clothes Tuleen outgrew. They worry she'll soon outgrow the new pink stroller awaiting her arrival.

"She's (Fatima) just worried about her daughter forgetting her,"  says Asaad, who describes some days as "very dark."

He says they also worry about the long-term effect of the separation on their daughter.

Only a partial statement from Citizenship and Immigration Canada was available at the time of publication, with further details expected Monday. It says: "The child will only be considered Canadian at birth if the parent was born in Canada, or became a naturalized Canadian citizen before the birth of the child."

Assad, who grew up in Edmonton, was born in Jordan, but says he was given automatic citizenship at birth because his father is a Canadian.

Sereen, 6, and Sundos, 5 want to move to Jordan to take care of their little sister.
A similar case earlier this year may offer some hope. An Egyptian couple living in Canada were reunited with their baby who had been stranded in Egypt a month after CBC told their story.

The Daouds have gone over their options again and again but trips to Jordan are not affordable and will only further delay Fatima's immigration process.

"I don't want this to happen to any family in the world because it's really tough," says Assad, adding that for his wife the delay is becoming unbearable.

"I get this feeling I'll see her soon, but when? Hopefully, really soon."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca / @andreahuncar