‘At least they’re safe:’ Arrival of new Syrian refugee family to Haida Gwaii delayed due to COVID-19

According to spokesperson Beng Favreau, Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii started the sponsorship application process for Syrian refugee Israa El Isaa (left) and her family in September 2018, and was “just a small step away from receiving the family in March” before their flight from Lebanon to Canada was cancelled due to COVID-19. “Now we have no idea when international flights will resume and when we can expect them here,” Favreau said. (Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii/Submitted photo)
Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii had planned a Syrian dinner fundraiser for Sunday, March 15, 2020 that was ultimately switched to a takeout format due to COVID-19. Pictured are some of the dinners prepared for the fundraiser by local Syrian families. (Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii/Submitted photo)

The Syrian refugees due to arrive on Haida Gwaii in mid-March have been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii members believe the family is keeping safe in Lebanon in the meantime.

Spokesperson Beng Favreau told the Observer the family of five was supposed to arrive in Canada on March 18, but a couple of days beforehand, they received an email from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada advising them that their flight out of Lebanon had been cancelled.

“We’re still in contact with the family,” Favreau said, adding that they have been communicating through Facebook Messenger. “They’re kind of stuck in Lebanon, but at least they’re safe.”

Still, Favreau said it is important for the family to be able to resettle as soon as possible since they are treated differently than Lebanese citizens, and struggle to access services and opportunities. For example, the three young children are not allowed to attend school.

“They really want to come, but I can’t tell them any more than what I know from the government … it all depends on how soon international flights will be back to normal,” she said.

“They just have to continue to stay safe, stay well and wait for their turn to fly here.”

Favreau said Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii has secured accommodation in Daajing Giids for when the family finally arrives. In the meantime, the space is being rented by another temporary tenant.

ALSO READ: War now peace: Syrian refugees making a new home on Haida Gwaii

The family consists of Israa El Isaa and her husband Mostafa Ali, who is a mechanic by trade, as well as their children Sandy, Hasan and Talia, who Favreau said are all under the age of 7.

Favreau said Israa fled to Lebanon in 2013 from the war-torn city of Aleppo, Syria.

They are coming as part of the Family Reunification Program, since Israa is the sister of Anas Saeed and his wife Magdalena, one of two newcomer families first resettled on the island.

Anas told the Observer the family is “sad and hoping to come to Canada soon.”

“They were all prepared for the travel when the airports got closed just two days before their flight date. My sister was so upset,” he said.

“They are doing OK, but they are worried that they won’t be able to come for a long time.”

Anas also said “the situation in Lebanon is getting worse.”

“The racism is bad … they just want to leave that country and live peacefully in Canada,” he said, adding that they also want to be close to him and the rest of their family.

“I wish everything will go back to normal soon and they would be able to come soon.”

ALSO READ: Fundraising ramps up for Syrian refugee families

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