A Somali couple, who came to Saint John as refugees about a year ago, is still anxiously waiting to be reunited with four of their nine children.
Abdiwahab Elmi, his wife, FadumaMaalin, and five of their children escaped from Somalia, a state rife with violence and human suffering, with the help of a federal program that assists United Nations refugees.
But it could take up to 22 months before their four other children, who were left behind in Africa, can join them.
YMCA settlement counsellor Kelly Carline says the parents were processed in South Africa and were told by the Canadian government not to go back to Somalia to retrieve their teenage children.
“The family were encouraged, ‘Don’t go back and get the children, continue on to Canada and the children will be brought to join you,'” says Carline.
“So they came in good faith, that they would be reunited, and we are thankful that the government is in the process of bringing the four children to join them.”
Elmi says the separation is painful.
While he’s only been in Canada one year, he hasn’t seen his four teenage children in more than five years.
That’s because he left them behind when he fled Somalia and it took him a long time to work and save and travel through various countries, making his way to South Africa.
That’s where he applied for refugee status with the United Nations.
The youngest children were born in South Africa, while Elmi and his wife waited for their claim to process.
Carline says she’s optimistic that the other children will arrive sooner rather than later.
She says the YMCA might only get notice one week before they’re put on a plane.
“For example, my colleague who welcomes people at the airport sometimes has only a few days notice to greet a family of five or seven,” she says.
Meanwihle, Elmi works in a local restaurant and he says he’s able to send $500 back to his children every month while they wait.