For weeks, Hisham Wattar feared his niece would try to board a refugee ship across the Mediterranean Sea.
She and four other members of Mr. Wattar's family fled Syria for Egypt in 2012. Mr. Wattar's refugee sponsorship application was approved in mid-2014, but the wait for an arrival date dragged on. In August, a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it would be 3½ years until his relatives could come to this country. His niece began considering other options.
But Mr. Wattar and other British Columbians who have been trying to bring Syrian family members here say the refugee process that had been maddeningly slow appears to be speeding up.
Mr. Wattar said his family members may now arrive in Canada by the end of December.
"They are ecstatic that this thing is finally happening," he said in an interview on Thursday. "They've been there for 3½ years. It's a huge deal. It's a lifesaver for them."
Mr. Wattar, who resides in North Vancouver and owns a falafel business, filed his sponsorship application in June of last year with the help of a local church. He planned for his sister, two nieces, and two children of one of the nieces to live with him. His application was approved shortly after it was filed.
Mr. Wattar spoke with media in September, weeks after he received the Citizenship and Immigration Canada letter announcing the years-long delay. An explanation for the delay was not provided and Mr. Wattar criticized the federal government for not processing applications in a reasonable time.
Mr. Wattar said at the time that family members were frantically trying to persuade the childless niece not to board a refugee ship. In the end, she did not.
Mr. Wattar said his relatives had an interview with Canadian officials about a month ago, and had their medical examinations last week. The family has not received an official arrival date, but Mr. Wattar said once an orientation session is complete, his relatives could arrive quite soon.
"I'm really thankful," he said.
Adnan Mohammad, whose application to bring his brother and his family – a wife and four children – to Canada has been approved, told The Globe in September his relatives would have to wait more than four years.
But Mr. Mohammad said on Thursday his family members were recently interviewed by Canadian officials, and will soon have the medical examinations.
Mr. Mohammad said the process appears to be "way faster" now than it was a few months ago. He said he did not know when his family might come to Canada. They, too, are in Egypt.
Ahmad Mossli, whose sponsorship application for his brother has been approved, agreed the refugee process appears to be moving faster. Mr. Mossli said he received an e-mail from immigration officials last week looking to interview his brother, who had been living in Jordan.
However, Mr. Mossli said he has not heard from his brother since heavy flooding occurred in Amman a few weeks ago, and expressed concern for his well-being.
"I can't sleep," he said in an interview.
Mr. Mossli told The Globe in September his brother, who had been living on the street, would have to wait 19 months until he could come to Canada.
"My brother, I don't think will be alive for another 19 months there," he said at the time.
Mr. Mossli said he may travel to Jordan in the coming weeks to try to track down his brother.
"If we find him, he will go right away [to the interview]," he said.