Nova Scotia

Fed up with year of delays, woman goes to Jordan to meet refugees she wants to bring to Canada

A Nova Scotia woman helping sponsor a family of Syrians was so fed up with bureaucratic delays getting them to Canada that she travelled on her own dime to the Middle East late last month to meet the refugees.

Family shocked and happy to see her, sponsor says

Stephanie Gillis is seen in Jordan with a member of the Syrian family her group is trying to sponsor. (Stephanie Gillis)

A Nova Scotia woman helping sponsor a family of Syrians was so fed up with bureaucratic delays getting them to Canada that she travelled on her own dime to the Middle East late last month to meet the refugees.

Stephanie Gillis said the family was shocked — and happy — to see her at their temporary home in Amman, Jordan. 

"They weren't expecting me, it was a big surprise," she told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.

Gillis is part of a group of employees at Southwest Properties, a real estate developer in Halifax, that applied in December 2015 to privately sponsor the Syrian family of four.

No explanation for delays

On Feb. 1, 2016, Mouad Almasalma, his wife and two children received word from the Canadian embassy in Jordan that they should prepare to move to Canada within the next two or three weeks, Gillis said.

Gillis and her fellow sponsors rushed to prepare an apartment in Halifax, she said, but the family never arrived. Gillis said neither she, nor the family, have been given an explanation for the delays.

CBC News contacted the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for an update on the family's status and was told all family members needed to sign a consent form before the inquiry could proceed.

Gillis said she spent two evenings with the family, chatting around the propane stove. (Stephanie Gillis)

First stop: Canadian embassy

Gillis said she was planning a trip for her 30th birthday and decided to go to Israel because it meant she could "pop over to Jordan" to meet the Syrian refugee family.

It took several buses and taxis to cross the border from Israel into Jordan, she said.

Her first stop was the Canadian embassy. Gillis said the first question the receptionist asked was, "Did you send an email?"

"No, but I'm standing here," she said she told the person on staff. "I travelled all this way and I'm hoping for an answer."

Gillis didn't get one. "They wouldn't even let me past the doors to speak to anybody," she said.

Gillis says she took several buses and taxis to cross the border from Israel into Jordan. (Stephanie Gillis)

An emotional first meeting

Gillis, who said she communicates with the Syrian family on a weekly basis, managed to track down their temporary home using the address they wrote on their immigration application.

It was an emotional first meeting, she said. "They just couldn't believe it."

Gillis said she spent two evenings with the family, chatting around the propane stove. One evening the family cooked her a traditional Syrian meal.

"We connected really well," she said. "It was like we were family that were just reuniting."

The apartment, which was donated by Southwest, is fully furnished and ready for a family. (Stephanie Gillis)

No longer 'just names on paper'

The trip was worth it, Gillis said, because the family members are no longer "just names on paper." Now that there's an emotional connection, she said, she's motivated to make sure this particular family makes it to Canada.
 
Gillis said she plans to write letters to Canadian officials and include photos of her with the children in the hopes of speeding up the application process.

She said this family is "exactly the type of people we want here in Canada."

The parents are in their 30s, have university degrees and speak English, and their children are young enough that adjusting to life in a new country will be relatively easy, she said.

Gillis plans to write letters to Canadian officials and include photos of her with the children. (Stephanie Gillis)

With files from the CBC's Information Morning

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