New Brunswick

Refugee couple in Sackville desperate to reunite with family from Syria

Nezar Hussein and Soze Ibrahim are stuck between two worlds as they wait for family to join them in Canada.

'We're stuck and we're frustrated'

Nukar Hussein communicates with his family everyday from his apartment in Lebanon. Soze Ibrahim said her family worries about her brother-in-law being alone in a different country. Ibrahim's daughter, Simav, is also pictured in the photo. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Nezar Hussein and Soze Ibrahim are stuck between two worlds as they wait for family to join them in Canada.

Since landing with their infant son in Sackville three years ago, Soze has given birth to twin girls. Both parents are working, they're learning English and have built a new community of friends.

But what stops them from moving on with their new life is the thought of Nezar's younger brother, Nukar, who they left behind.

"It's very hard, he's alone in Lebanon," said Soze.

Two years after war broke out in Syria in 2011, Soze and Nezar fled the country with Nukar, crossing the border into Lebanon. They claimed refugee status. 

"Because the life in Syria is very dangerous now, no job, no anything … it's difficult."

The trio found a small apartment in Beirut, but they still couldn't work. Life remained on hold until the couple had a baby boy they named Fenner. Just a few months later, the Canadian embassy reached out.

"This phone [call] changed my life," said Nezar.

Sarah Poirier, chair of the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, said the community raised enough money to bring three refugee families to Sackville in about two weeks. She's holding Lilav Hussein, who belongs to one of the families. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The man on the other line asked if Nezar, his wife and child, wanted to go to Canada, and asked how soon they could leave.

"I said, "I'm ready now. If you like it, I go now, today,'" he recalled with a laugh.

But because Nukar was a single adult, he was being processed on a separate application. He couldn't go with them.

A new home in Sackville

Sarah Poirier, chair of the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, said the group had to mobilize quickly to prepare for their sponsored family because they only had a week's notice.

But they found a car seat, an apartment and everything else the family would need in time to meet Nezar, Soze and Fenner at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport in 2016.

"They had travelled from Beirut to Cairo to Malta to Toronto. And so with a nine-month-old, as you can imagine, they were pretty beat when they got off the plane."

Almost immediately, Nezar and Soze told their new community about Nukar.

"That's when the process started," said Poirier. "It was like the day after their arrival."

She said it takes work and time to get all the necessary paperwork together, but the coalition managed to submit the application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada within a few months. They were told it was at the Beirut office in February 2017.

"And at that time we got a notification the processing time … could be up to 20 months. And here we are 28 months later, still no news."

The Sackville Refugee Response Coalition set out to raise enough money to bring one Syrian refugee family to the town. Within a matter of weeks, the group had raised more than $100,000. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Poirier was involved in bringing two other families and a woman to Sackville through the refugee program. She's familiar with the process, but said Nukar's isn't going like the others. 

"The most frustrating thing for all of us is that he had his interview and his medical [exam] and he even signed papers at the end of his interview, which usually means, 'OK, you're accepted.'"  

She said that was in December, 2017. 

"But since then it's been crickets, we haven't heard anything." 

When Poirier inquired with immigration, she heard there was no change in status.

"We're stuck and we're frustrated."

The government agency said it can't comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.  

Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said a variety of factors could affect the length of time it takes to process an application.

They include, the volume of applications, the security situation in the region, logistical challenges, and how quickly requirements such as security screening and medical examinations can be completed. 

Living as a refugee

Nezar and Soze are worried about Nukar and speak to him daily. Hostility toward refugees has been on the rise in Lebanon. Life has become increasingly difficult for Syrians living there.

Nezar Hussein and Soze Ibrahim have a hectic and loving home. Nezar is working at an autobody shop, Soze sells Kurdish food at the Sackville Farmers Market. They're holding their twin girls, Simav, in pink, and Lilav, in green. Both were born in Canada. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

More than 1.5 million Syrians live in Lebanon. But there is a government push to return them to Syria after fighting ended in many parts of the country over the past three years. 

Nezar said it remains unsafe in his home province of Al-Hasakah. And he wants his brother to have the same opportunities that he is enjoying in Canada.

Instead, Nukar rarely leaves the apartment they once shared for fear of violence or being sent back to Syria.

He tells Nukar to be careful if he visits any restaurants or parties.

Poirier said the Sackville group has funds to help get Nukar on his feet. There's a job and an apartment lined up for the 26-year-old when he gets here.

Until that happens, Nezar said it's hard to enjoy what his family has gained.

Nezar said a reality for many Syrian families is separation. His 13 siblings can be found in four different countries.

He said he lost a sister as a result of a chemical attack by ISIS militants.

His mother died of cancer in Syria. During their last conversation, Nezar promised her his little brother would be safe in Canada within two weeks.

It wasn't true, as much as he wanted it to be.

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.