An Ottawa family anxiously awaits reunion with relatives left homeless by the earthquake in Turkey
Fadila Hijazi recalls the sinking feeling in her heart as she and her parents spent hours desperately trying to reach their relatives in southern Turkey.
After escaping Syria’s civil war in 2016, the 12th-grade student from Ottawa watched in horror as she scrolled through photos of collapsed buildings on Facebook and desperate for news about her uncle, aunt and two young cousins searched in Antakya.
“Someone told us they saw her alive, which is hope,” Hijazi said.
“We say, ‘That’s all that matters.’ But when we actually got in touch with them, we saw how hurt they were,” she said.
During the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, the walls of her uncle’s home collapsed, pinning his wife under the rubble for several hours.
The children, 4 and 7, were luckier, their tiny bodies spared because their father, Mahmod Masri, placed a protective shield over the girls as bricks fell around them.
Hijazi’s aunt Farah Algharib survived the ordeal, but more than two weeks later she is still unable to attend a hospital.
Bruises remain visible on the woman’s face, arms and stomach – “half her body is swollen,” as the family describes it – but medical care is not their top priority at this time.
“They are homeless, they have nowhere to go,” Hijazi said.
Hijazi’s family has spent the last three years bringing Algharib, Masri and their two daughters to Canada.
“We’re just waiting for them to come over here and then we can take care of everything else,” Hijazi said, adding that they’ve already arranged a place for the family in Orléans, east Ottawa.
Instead, her uncle, aunt and cousins are taking refuge in parks, bus stops and apartment lobbies 8,600 kilometers away, unaware of when another wall might come down after the disaster.
Hijazi once said the family could borrow a tent to stay in a refugee camp in Kilis, near the Syrian border, but had to return it.
Tarek Hijazi, Fadila’s father and owner of Shami’s Bakery in Orléans, said he was worried about Masri and his family.
“They are homeless now, no food, nothing,” Hijazi said.
A “frustrating” wait
In January 2020, the Hijazi family submitted a private sponsorship application for their four relatives for the first time.
The Masri family had also escaped the war in Syria and were waiting in Turkey for their immigration documents.
They were interviewed at the Canada Visa Office in Ankara in April 2021 and since then the extended family has been awaiting news of their reunion in Canada.
To back up their application, the Hijazis asked family friend Jane Logan to serve as a co-sponsor.
“It’s very frustrating,” Logan said. “We’ve got people queuing to drive them to doctor’s appointments, we’ve got people queuing to get the kids enrolled in school, we’ve got people queuing that have little kids that they want to welcome.”
Logan said she understands how the pandemic has contributed to delays in the application process, but it’s not making the wait any easier.
“When it comes to a loved one, there’s still a great sense of urgency and responsibility for their safety,” Logan said.
IRCC ‘reviews its options’
Logan and the Hijazis said they would like an expedited process for urgent immigration cases like this.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and I really want them to put all their resources into there and help these people get to where they’re safe,” Logan said.
The only message they have received from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) so far is that their application is “actively being processed”.
In recent correspondence dated Feb. 20, the department said that earthquake-affected applicants can fill out an urgent crisis form to request priority processing.
The IRCC email also said it was “assessing its options to determine whether special immigration measures are warranted, taking into account the unique local circumstances of the emergency”.
IRCC told CBC News the Canadian government is deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of those affected by the earthquakes and is monitoring the situation very closely.
“In responding to international crises, Canada tailors each response to the unique needs of those who need our support. We are coordinating with our international partners and considering what they are doing to support it,” IRCC said in a written statement, adding it could not comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns.
IRCC also told CBC that the earthquake in southeastern Turkey did not delay the application process.
Logan and the Hijazis have since requested priority processing and are hoping there is good news on the horizon, especially after Monday’s recent earthquake.
Masri called from the borrowed tent in Kilis last week and told the Hijazi family that they still feel tremors every few minutes and his daughters are so scared they don’t want to let go of him.
Tarek Hijazi said he still hopes the Canadian government will help the family.
“They will help you as they helped us,” he said to his brother-in-law. “God willing, you can be here soon.”