Saer Al Kerdi and his wife, Khaldya and their daughters from the left, Alisar, 6, Walaa, 15, Sehar, 10, and their sons, Saher,11, and Saer, 14, resettled in Red Deer from Syria in January of 2016.

Red Deer refugee sponsors face challenges

Working to reunite Syrian family

A group working to reunite Syrian refugees with family in Red Deer wants to connect with other private refugee sponsors across Canada to convince the federal government to expedite the process.

Syrians Saer and Khaldya Al Kerdi and their five children came to Red Deer in January 2016, but their two eldest daughters, their husbands and two young children are still in Lebanon waiting to come to Canada.

For about a year, a group of 10 Red Deerians called United in Action Group have been preparing to sponsor the six left behind.

United member Shirley Challoner said last month they found out that government had capped the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees allowed to come to Canada to 1,000 for 2017 for small sponsor groups. That quota was reached by the end of January.

“Talk about frustrating and disappointing and discouraging and heartbreaking for the family,” Challoner said.

She said the refugee application was filled out and sent in for processing in Winnipeg early last May, but has yet to move forward to be vetted, for interviews with family members in Lebanon, and visa approval.

She said according to information from Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen’s office, the processing centre in Winnipeg is still working on files from November 2015.

United in Action Group was working with the federal government’s Syrian Family Links Initiative, announced in January 2016, to encourage private sponsors to help bring refugee family members to Canada.

The group read about how about the Al Kerdi family had to leave behind their two daughters in the Advocate and wanted to help.

Challoner said last March the group was given only 12 hours notice by Syrian Family Links to get their application in so it would be processed by the end of 2016. But the group needed more time to complete the lengthy process.

Government has since cancelled the initiative. Now the group’s application is among the many from people applying for refugee status from all over the world.

She said it’s difficult to know how long the Al Kerdi family will have to wait to be reunited.

“I feel very responsible for this family here. I ache for them. But at the same time it is a bigger picture. There are hundreds across the country that are raising this issue,” Challoner said.

United member Dale Watson said private sponsors came forward in response to a plea from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“There really is quite a contradictory message. You have all this fanfare about sponsoring. Then shutting the process right down so it doesn’t work,” Watson said.

Several members of United in Action Group have worked with Sunnybrook United Church to bring several refugees to Red Deer through the years who have gone on to thrive, he said.

“There is no doubt we can financially support these folks. And they have an advantage because the parents and the five other children are already here, and they’ve been here for a year.”

To contact United in Action Group e-mail secretary Brenda Corney at

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