After deadly earthquake, N.S. advocate urges government to bring Syrian refugees to Canada

CBC News

CBC News · Posted: Feb 09, 2023

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey earlier this week, a Nova Scotian refugee support group is urging the government to step in and expedite the process for Syrians living in Turkey to come to Canada.

Kate Sircom, the chair of the Wolfville Refugee Support Network, says her group has been trying for years to help Nahed, a Syrian woman who arrived in Canada in 2017, get the rest of her family to Canada. (CBC is not using Nahed's last name to protect her privacy.)

The group was successful in bringing her mother to Nova Scotia in 2019, but her brother Mohammed's application, filed more than three years ago, remains in limbo.

Nahed's sister and three brothers live in Gaziantep, Turkey, one of the hardest hit cities by the earthquake. On Wednesday night, she found out her sister and her three young children were killed in the earthquake. Meanwhile, her brothers, including Mohammed and his wife and two children, are now living in a park, struggling to keep warm. 

"She's devastated. She's here with her mother … and they're desperate to reunite with their family members," Sircom told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia.

She spoke with guest host Pauline Dakin on Thursday about why she believes the government needs to act now. 

The Wolfville Refugee Support Network has been trying for years to help a Syrian family get to Canada. The deadly earthquakes in Syria and Turkey have made their efforts all the more urgent. We hear from the refugee group's chair Kate Sircom.

This started with a woman named Nahed. Can you tell us about her?

We brought Nahed to Wolfville in 2017. She's a young single mom. When she arrived, she hardly spoke a word of English. Since she's been here, she's put herself through English language lessons, she's completed two years at NSCC and she's now working full time in financial services in Wolfville. She's financially independent and a fully integrated member of our community. But Nahed is desperate for her family members to join her here.

What do you know about where they are?

Nahed found out early Monday morning about the earthquake. Currently she has three brothers in Gaziantep, in the place that's really the epicentre of the earthquake. Her brothers are currently living in a park. They're keeping warm over a fire. They're sheltering from the wind in a van. They have no water, they have no electricity, they have no heat, they have no food. And, tragically, Nahed also has a sister who was living in the same area. And she found out that sister's building collapsed. And we just found out last night that her sister and her three young children didn't survive.

On top of the grief, there must be a terrible feeling of helplessness watching this from so far away

Nahed, she said, 'I don't want money. I just want to be with my family.' It's really a double whammy for refugees from Syria because they fled Syria in 2014 when their house was bombed. They arrived in Turkey and Turkey is kind of a limbo for refugees. They don't have a clear pathway to citizenship there. They don't have access to higher education. They're just surviving on whatever jobs they can get and their lives are really on hold, which is why they want to come to Canada and start their lives just as Nahed has been able to do.

We really believe that the right thing for the Canadian government to do at this particular moment is to expedite the processing of Syrian refugees in the particular area where the earthquake hit. Particularly, those who already have applications in the process. We've already raised money to support Nahed's family. We're here, we've got great support from the community, we're ready to welcome them and we just need to get them here.

Has your group had any conversations with the government?

We have, but perhaps this earthquake is maybe something that would push them to more action. We really need to streamline the process and I think that there's a case to have a special program at this time to sponsor Syrians in Gaziantep in particular. I think that would be a really effective gesture from Canada at this particular time. I know we are are sending aid and the government has agreed to to match [up to $10 million] of donations, but this is equally important and I think quite frankly, it's a moral obligation at this point for us to do this. 

In the meantime, what can you do?

Our story is not unique. There are sponsorship communities throughout Nova Scotia who are in this exact same situation. Groups that have sponsored refugees who are also waiting for their applications to be processed. Some of them are sending money over to Turkey and we're certainly willing to do that.

But you know, Nahed has said, 'I don't want money. I just want my family.' So I think what people can do is put pressure on the government, put some pressure on [Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship] Sean Fraser and write to your MP and then ask them just to streamline the application process a bit.