Frustration in Cape Breton village as backlog delays arrival of Syrian refugees

The village of Baddeck in Cape Breton has been trying to sponsor a Syrian family for two years. They've raised everything they need, but the group says federal delays are putting it all in jeopardy.

Syria to Baddeck group says family in dire straits in Jordan; MP acknowledges federal government backlog

Members of Syria to Baddeck discuss delays bringing a family to Canada. (CBC)

When a community group formed two years ago to bring a family of Syrian refugees to a Cape Breton village, it was quickly flooded with $40,000 in donations, offers of furniture and clothing, and volunteers ready to help.

But members of the Syria to Baddeck committee now feel they've let down their supporters and misled the refugees they promised to sponsor, as federal government delays stall prospects the family will soon be able to travel to Canada and settle in Baddeck.

Committee member Jennifer MacDonald said the family's application was processed in July 2016, and the committee was initially led to believe it would be another 13 to 19 months until they were approved to enter Canada.

Then in April, the federal government told the group it would be another 19 months, she said.

"Now, we have to go back to this family who's been hanging on in Jordan and tell them that it's going to be another 19 months," MacDonald said.

'They are living in dire straits'

MacDonald said the committee had chosen the family with the help of the Syrian community in Halifax. The mother, father and four children were living as refugees in Jordan, where the father was able to make a little money under the table.

"They are living in dire straits," she said. "Our fear is that we've been asking them to hang on and providing them with hope and we're not sure they are going to be able to hang on there."

MacDonald said it's becoming harder for the father to find work and she's afraid the family will be forced to return to Syria, which is still embroiled in civil war.

MP says backlog to blame

The group's local MP, Sydney-Victoria Liberal Mark Eyking, said there's a large application backlog in the private sponsorship refugee program.

He said when he returns to Ottawa on Monday, he will speak with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in a effort to move things along. Other MPs have similar situations in their ridings, he said.

"I think we have to look at these circumstances a little different than the government-sponsored refugees," he said.

More resources are needed, he said.

MacDonald said it was the federal government that encouraged communities to come together to sponsor refugees, and a commitment was made to help those fleeing the war in Syria.

"Our community had rallied and we're ready," she said. "We need the government to follow through on some of those promises they've made."

With files from Gary Mansfield