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Sudbury couple fighting to get family out of Syria

The birth of a baby is usually a happy time, but for one Sudbury couple, the joy was tinged by the absence of family members caught in the brutal Syrian civil war.
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As Christians living amid a particularly gruesome sectarian conflict, the war has touched Jesse Alkhoury's family in Syria in nightmarish ways. And they are hoping Sudbury will respond at a community meeting Wednesday to send the message to the federal government that this city wants to help. Darren MacDonald photo.
The birth of a baby is usually a happy time, but for one Sudbury couple, the joy was tinged by the absence of family members caught in the brutal Syrian civil war.

Since the beginning of August, Jesse Alkhoury has been working to get his mother-in-law permission to travel from Syria to Canada so she could be with her daughter when the baby arrived.

They were told it would be a 23-day process, but the application coincided with the start of the Oct. 19 federal election, and the family is still waiting. The baby – a boy – arrived Oct. 30, and everyone is healthy, Alkhoury said.

"Thank God everything went OK," he said Monday.

As Christians living in Syria, Alkhoury's and his wife's relatives are victims of persecution, since they are members neither of the majority Sunni sect of Islam or the Alawite sect, which counts President Bashar al-Assad as members.

"We'd really like to have her mother with us, especially now that I'm out of town (working) and she's home alone with the baby," Alkhoury said. "I'm waiting for something to give. One of our family members was shot in the head in battle this week. So it's a very trying situation for us right now."

He got an email this week from Citizenship and Immigration Canada that informed him that there was nothing new to report on the family's application.

"Why send this? I have no idea," Alkhoury said.

With the newly elected Liberal government promising to act fast on the Syria file, the family has some hope. On Monday, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced he was creating an ad hoc committee made up of several cabinet ministers to help bring Syrians suffering from war to Canada.

Liberal campaign promises on Syria include:

Expanding Canada’s intake of refugees from Syria by 25,000 through immediate government sponsorship, and also work with private sponsors to accept even more;

Fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants;

Invest at least an additional $100 million this fiscal year to increase – without reducing standards – refugee processing as well as sponsorship and settlement services capacity in Canada; and,

Provide an immediate, new $100-million contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support the critical relief activities in Syria and the surrounding area.

In Sudbury, at least two groups are working to sponsor refugees from Syria to come to Sudbury. Alkhoury hopes the changes will help his family's case, as well. He's been in contact with Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre's office and hopes to meet with him soon.

"I haven't yet, but someone from his office ... contacted me last week and said that when Paul came back from Ottawa, that he was supposed to be in contact with me to see if there was anything that they might be able to do," he said.

"I'm hoping to have that conversation with Paul shortly. I think that would be the next step."

Lefebvre's office was already familiar with the case thanks to media coverage, Alkhoury said, including a Northerlife.ca article last month. Lefebvre spokesperson Mike Whitehouse confirmed they're familiar with the case, and said they are eager to help the Alkhoury family.

For his part, Alkhoury said he's willing to wait a little longer to see if Lefebvre can help.

"I don't want to pursue anything else until I have taken this course of action with my MP," he said. "If he's not able to do anything, then we'll try and look at another avenue."

However, time is not on their side, as the realities of the Syrian conflict encircle relatives still living there. While attention has been diverted by the recent intervention by Russia, Alkhoury said there's no sign things are stabilizing.

"It's getting a lot worse," he said. "It seems to me that a lot of the battles that are taking place are a lot closer to home for us these days. We're constantly on edge. Just trying to get through every day with work. I can't collapse just yet."



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