Private refugee sponsors wait in line overnight for a chance to submit applications

Dozens of people lined up overnight outside the downtown office of Quebec's Immigration Ministry this weekend, hoping to get their application to sponsor a refugee family accepted.

Quebec Immigration Ministry lifts freeze, will accept 750 new private sponsorships

Dozens of people lined up early Monday to get their applications to privately sponsor refugees accepted by the Quebec government. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Dozens of people lined up overnight outside the downtown office of Quebec's Immigration Ministry this weekend, hoping to get their application to sponsor a refugee family accepted.

Private sponsorship applications were closed in the province in January 2017 due to a backlog in processing existing applications.

As of Monday morning, the government was accepting 750 new applications.

The applications to sponsor a person or family can come from groups of citizens, community groups or institutions like churches or mosques.

The government required that the applications be dropped off at the Ministry by a courrier, not mailed or dropped off by the applicant.

Bilal Manideh, who helped found Refugee Sponsorship of Greater Montreal, said this cost him thousands of dollars since the courrier he hired had to wait for several hours in line before the office opened its doors.

"It's completely unfair," he said, adding that he has spent his last three sleepless nights trying to decide which applications he would choose to bring to the government.

A courier drops off refugee claimant files at the office of Quebec's Immigration Ministry Monday in downtown Montreal. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

That sentiment was echoed by Asma Al-Shawarghi, a volunteer with Refugee Sponsorship of Greater Montreal.

The government has set limits on how many applications can be put forward by certain types of groups. Community organizations like like hers, which operate in the Montreal area and have been active for less than 10 years, can collectively make 200 of the 750 total applications.

Al-Shawarghi said it's difficult to have to choose which families to put forward first.

"It hurts. It's really emotional to have to choose," said Al-Shawarghi. She said her group prioritized those whose lives are in immediate danger and are at risk of being deported back to Syria.

The families her group is sponsoring currently live in refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

"I just fear for the future of these kids," she said. "I was hoping that we could get more in."

Catherine Bellazzi lined up in front of the downtown Montreal office as of 5 p.m. Sunday. She's a private citizen who banded together with friends and family to sponsor a Syrian family.

"We're very lucky to be born in Canada," she said, adding that she hoped citizens would do the same for her if she needed it.

Bellazzi began the process of sponsoring a family of parents with two small children and two grandparents about 20 months ago. Those six are expected to arrive in January. 

Now, she's trying to bring a 19-year-old sister, her husband and their two children over to join them.

Their group of five sponsors already raised more than $30,000 for the family, with a goal of $45,000. The government has capped this round of applications from small groups of private citizens to 100 total.

She said waiting for hours on a warm night was a small price to pay to help those who fled their homes and are now living in refugee camps.

Montreal-based immigration consultant Louay Bachour says he was the second in line, arriving at 4 p.m. Sunday. He was there representing two organizations with 10 files each.

"We need more people to be coming in," said Bachour, adding that he thinks the government is doing their best to bring more refugees to the province.

Nicolas Nour was representing the Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in  Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. His group was first in line, working in shifts and arriving at the immigration office at 3 p.m. Sunday.

"We have a lot of demand for this kind of sponsorship, but the government decided to not accept much," he said.

"It's not fair because they don't give a chance to everybody," he said.

For those who are selected, it could still be years before they arrive in Canada.

With files from CBC reporter Jay Turnbull