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Hisham Wattar at his home in North Vancouver, B.C., on September 5, 2015. Mr. Wattar has been trying to get five family members (sister, two nieces, and the two children of one of the nieces) to Canada. They fled Syria in 2012 and have been living in Egypt since. Hisham says he received a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada last month that said it would take 3.5 years for the relatives to be allowed to come to Canada.Jimmy Jeong

Hisham Wattar is worried.

His niece, who fled war-torn Syria for Egypt in 2012 and has been trying to get to Canada, appears to be giving up on that dream. She has turned her attention to Europe and begun exploring the possibility of boarding a migrant ship across the Mediterranean Sea.

"We're trying to put pressure on her and saying, 'You'll lose your life by doing that,'" he says in an interview. "'At least you have a shot – I know it's a long shot – at getting to Canada.'"

As the global refugee crisis takes on new urgency, following the global outrage over the drowning deaths of two Syrian children and their mother off the Turkish coast, Canadians who have tried to sponsor family members as refugees are expressing frustration at what they say is a maddeningly slow process.

Mr. Wattar said his application for his sister, two nieces and two children of one of the nieces was submitted in June, 2014, and approved shortly after. But he said he received a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada last month that said it would be 3 1/2 years before the five relatives could arrive in this country. An explanation was not provided.

"They're not processing within a reasonable time. It's ridiculous," he said.

Mr. Wattar said one of his nieces, upon hearing of the letter, began looking for migrant ships to Turkey. The other niece, the mother of the two children, ruled out such a trip as too dangerous, he said.

Mr. Wattar, who resides in North Vancouver and owns a falafel business, filed his sponsorship application with the help of a local church. His five relatives would live with him when they arrived in Canada, he said.

"We're playing by the rules. We did everything they required of us, but where is the government?" he asked.

Ahmad Mossli also expressed frustration at the sponsorship process. Mr. Mossli said three of his brothers have fled Syria, while two remain in the country. He said he cannot afford to sponsor all three and filed an application for the youngest, who is currently in Jordan.

Mr. Mossli said the application was approved, but it will be more than a year and a half until his brother can come to Canada.

Mr. Mossli, who also lives in North Vancouver and filed his application with the help of a church, said he does not know what will happen to his brother in the meantime. He said he's currently living on the street.

"My brother, I don't think will be alive for another 19 months there," he said in an interview.

Adnan Mohammad said it will be more than four years until his brother and his family – a wife and four children – are eligible to come to Canada. They, too, have been approved and are in Egypt. Mr. Mohammad said his brother already attempted to make it to Europe by boat once but was caught by authorities and jailed for 12 days.

He said two of his brother's children have gotten jobs to help pay for the family's apartment and are not going to school.

"We don't want to see any kids like Alan [Kurdi] on the shore again," he said in an interview, referring to the three-year-old boy who drowned. "The waiting time is way too long. People are losing hope; people are suffering dearly."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in a statement last week, said 800 privately sponsored Syrian refugees have been resettled to this country since January, 2014. Its website says it can take up 36 months to process an application and even longer "in rare cases." However, the statement said processing times for Syrian cases have "dropped significantly," though it did not for the discrepancy with what the families in Canada believed about wait times for their relatives.

"We are processing Syrian resettlement cases within a year, and continue to look at ways to streamline processing. It is important to remember that exactly how quickly applications can be processed in the future will depend on the volume of applications, security situation in the region and how quickly requirements such as security screening and medical examinations can be completed," the statement read.

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