Faduma Hassan dreams of bringing her six orphaned family members to Edmonton but a maze of government bureaucracy means she’ll once again be leaving the Somali teenagers to fend for themselves in Uganda when she flies back to Canada — alone — later this week.
Hassan is the legal guardian for the teen boys, who include four half-brothers and two nephews, and has support from a group of private-refugee sponsors in Edmonton.
However, the teens’ very status as orphans, without a clear head of household, has mired the immigration process and a rejection from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) earlier this month leaves the group wondering what to do next.
“We are separated and being separated is not easy for me,” Hassan told CBC’s Radio Active from Kampala, Uganda, where she was spending time with her family before flying back to Edmonton on Sept. 15.
“I’m a hard-working lady. I’m working to help the children to live, sending them money for school fees, groceries, medication. I want my brothers to come to a safe place, to live with me, and my nephews.”
The young men were born into the midst of the decades-long civil war in Somalia.
In 2009, Hassan’s father was fatally shot, while she was shot in her leg and back.
“My dad passed away in front of me,” Hassan said.
Her father is also the father to half-brothers Ahmed, 18, Mohamed, 17, Yusuf, 16 and Nur, 15. The teens’ mothers were also killed, one of them shot, one died in a bombing.
In 2013, Hassan and her daughter came to Edmonton as refugees. Hassan now works as a caretaker for Right at Home Housing Society and her 16-year-old daughter attends high school.
From the safety of Canada, Hassan watched helplessly at the toll the war was taking on family members back home. Her brother, father to nephews Hussein, 18, and Abdihafid, 17, was among more than 500 people killed in a massive 2017 bombing in downtown Mogadishu.
In 2019, Hassan got more awful news. Two of her half-brothers were kidnapped by the Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab while on their way to the mosque. They escaped after a month of captivity by climbing over a fence while their kidnappers were sleeping.
Hassan travelled to Somalia and moved the boys to Uganda, where she hoped they would be safer. She hired someone to help the boys with cooking and cleaning, checks in with daily phone calls, sends money and visits when she can.
“I worry about them,” Hassan said. “Even at night time, I’m not sleeping. I organize by phone, then I go to bed at three o’clock in the morning and I wake up at six o’clock to go to work.”
Getting to Canada
After the al-Shabaab kidnapping, Hassan became determined to get the boys to Canada. She checked with Edmonton mosques, churches and members of the Somali community, seeking help to sponsor them as refugees.
“Every time they said, ‘We’re full,'” Hassan said.
Last year, Hassan met Melissa Campbell, who was part of a private sponsorship group for a Syrian family and thought she could help.
Campbell contacted three other Edmonton women — Cara Roemmich, Elizabeth Nash and Kathryn Rambow — who had worked with the Syrian refugees. Together, the five women started getting together paperwork under a category called Group of Five, where private citizens can bring refugees to Canada.
However, Campbell says the process has been made more difficult because the teens are orphans.
A typical Group of Five application asks for a head of household, usually a mom, dad or grandparent, to be the primary applicant. That person is then listed along with the rest of the family. Without a parent to list, the group chose the two eldest boys as the primary applicants.
After waiting nine months, a form letter arrived from IRCC concerning the application for the nephews, Hussein and Abdihafid. It contained a tick in a box beside this text: “Sibling [sic] are not allowed to be in one application. Sponsors need to resubmit applications for each sibling individually.”
It was not the news the group was hoping for.
“It means starting from scratch, where we were nine months ago, and that’s devastating,” Campbell said.
The group is worried that separate applications require more funds, enough to support each boy in their own household, something that doesn’t make sense for a family that will be living together in Canada.
An IRCC spokesperson told Radio Active that, “If an application has been returned or refused, a new and complete application must be submitted by the applicant.”
The spokesperson also said, in this category, each sibling requires their own application and sponsors can indicate the relationships on each form, so that the family members can be settled together.
Campbell said it’s been impossible to get any information from IRCC. There’s no number to call and no one responds to emails, she said.
“We just don’t know where to go now,” she said. “These are boys, living by themselves. They have an auntie in Canada, who is here and trying to support them from afar. But she can only do so much from so far away.”
The government has asked for more information about the application for the four half-brothers, who applied under the same category as the nephews. This makes the group think that application is proceeding, said Campbell.
The group contacted Randy Boissonnault, MP for their riding of Edmonton Centre and Canada’s tourism minister, for help. Boissonnault’s office confirmed it had been in contact with Campbell and with IRCC but could not say more due to privacy concerns.
Waiting for an answer
Meanwhile, the Group of Five is looking for any option that won’t require starting over.
Campbell said she thinks this is a unique case. She hopes the government can see that, too.
“There are kids, like these boys, living in conditions that are unacceptable,” she said. “In Canada, we do have the capacity to help them, but there are so many barriers.”
Hassan is also begging the government to intervene, hoping a decision from someone with the power to help can reunite her family in Edmonton.
“It would be easy because if they go to school, I can go to work and then when they come home, I will be home,” Hassan said. “If they are with me, I can sleep at night time, because we are in one place, together.”