Rev. Glenn McDonald, his congregation and community members have been working for months to bring a Syrian refugee family to Edmonton, and were elated they were set to arrive this week.
Already, Father McDonald said, "they're like our family now."
But when he opened the newspaper on Friday morning, he let out an audible, "Oh no."
A story in The Globe and Mail said five-year-old Karima, her one-year-old sister, Ayat, and their parents Iwan and Zamzam Dalaa have been prevented – along with several other families – from leaving Beirut due to an apparent document mix-up.
The Dalaa family was supposed to travel via commercial flights to Toronto, and then on to Edmonton. But they were denied boarding on a flight that left Beirut late Wednesday, and slept in the mosque of the airport before finding a ride back to their makeshift home on the outskirts of Lebanon's capital. Mr. Dalaa said the family did not even have enough money to buy a bottle of water.
The Globe story was a shock to Father McDonald and others working to bring the Dalaa family to Edmonton.
"We're kind of concerned that the family is going to be lost," said Father McDonald, chaplain for St. Joseph's College, a University of Alberta-affiliated college established by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.
On Friday, the sponsor group was scrambling to find a way to transfer money to the family. Others were trying to get Alberta Premier Rachel Notley involved in helping the Dalaas.
Mr. Dalaa told The Globe on Friday his family does not know what is happening but has been told to wait.
"I feel that people do care about us," he said via a mobile message, while also expressing concern about a lack of follow-up from the International Organization for Migration, the group assisting the Canadian embassy in Lebanon with travel logistics for refugees cleared for resettlement.
"I know now that I would be treated the opposite way when I make it over there [to Canada]."
The Dalaa family is among 10,000 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Canada before the end of the year. Most of those who will arrive this month, including the Dalaas, are coming through private sponsorships. Many religious groups and ethnic and community associations have agreements with the federal government that allow them to sponsor refugees. The groups are responsible for the refugees' integration during their first year in Canada, and essentials including housing, food and education.
This particular push to bring a Syrian family to Canada was spearheaded by Edmontonians Karin and Colm MacCarthy. Diapers have been donated and an apartment for the Dalaas has already been set up at one of the college's residence buildings, Ms. MacCarthy said on Friday. The youngest of the Dalaa children has a medical issue and will be seen by a specialist as soon as she arrives, she added.
Father McDonald said the idea of sponsoring a Syrian family was brought to his congregation this fall shortly after a shockingly sad photo of a drowned refugee boy lying face-down on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum appeared around the world. More than $54,000 was raised for the family in a single weekend. Under the umbrella of St. Joseph's College, other community members – including Kim Franklin, the co-owner of Edmonton's beloved Highlevel Diner – are sponsoring at least two other Syrian refugee families.
"We have met people from all over the city, people I never would have interacted with," Father McDonald said.
"We are being transformed by this."
With a report from Samya Kullab