It’s easy to hear the smile in Hanan Talabeh’s voice. Even over the phone it’s obvious she’s thrilled—months after her family arrived from Syria. Talabeh’s sister-in-law, along with her three children, landed at the Ottawa airport on July 22, 2015, one year before they expected an answer on their refugee application.
Last year Talabeh worked to sponsor her family with the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario’s refugee coordinator, Moses Moini. When they submitted the application the expected wait time was 18 months.
One reason the process moved so quickly is that Talabeh’s application was filed as a Ministerial Priority case. Last year MCC Ontario submitted 10 applications in that category, and all of the families have arrived. The government is putting high emphasis on settling Syrian refugees, and for Talabeh that speed was a relief. “First time in my life I had good luck,” she says
Her sister-in-law Hanadi, along with her three children Sara, Lara and Jaafar (last names withheld for security reasons) had fled their home in Damascus, where Talabeh’s brother was killed by a sniper. The family stayed with friends in Saida, Lebanon as they waited.
While Lebanon is currently stable, displaced people live with fear that the violence they fled might follow them. “We were scared,” says Talabeh’s 16-year-old niece Sara, “you know that in Lebanon anytime it will be war.”
Now that she’s in Canada, life is more secure. “It’s an amazing place to live in, it respects a person, and it’s clean and the atmosphere is very good. Peaceful,” she says.
Sara now lives with her brother, sister and mother, in a townhouse just five minutes away from her aunt, who is supporting the family until they’re independent. “It is lots of financial pressure,” Talabeh says, “but it brings us happiness and peace of mind in another way.”
The family is working on improving their English, learning their way around a new city and adjusting to life in Canada. “Every day I ask them how do you feel?” Talabeh says. “Every day it’s getting better.”
Talabeh worries for her family still in Syria. “This war is endless,” she says. “It’s really hard to listen to the news every day hoping that there is hope, but unfortunately every day you listen to the news and it’s even worse.”
When friends heard that she had brought her family to Canada they asked how to do the same for their own family and friends. “Everybody wants desperately to get their loved ones out of Syria,” Talabeh says.
Mennonite Central Committee is looking for congregations and other groups willing to sponsor refugees from Syria. Contact your local MCC office to find out how you can help. MCC also welcomes donations for the ongoing relief work in Syria and surrounding countries.
What is Ministerial Priority?
There has been criticism in the media of the Canadian government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Some non-profit organizations suggest that the government should bring more government-assisted refugees from Syria and surrounding countries to Canada. Being a government-assisted refugee means that the government commits to paying for the living expenses for those families for up to a year after they arrive in Canada and provides a loan for travel costs.
That group of refugees is separate from the ministerial priority cases in this story. Ministerial priority simply means that the Citizenship and Immigration Minister has opened up more spaces for refugees from Syria, and in some cases sped up the processing time. But living expenses for families in this category are covered by their family members or another private group, such as the churches that MCC works with.
For more stories on Mennonites and Syrian refugees, see: