An Ottawa man says he’s frustrated by what he sees as inaction from Canadian officials to help reunite families following the explosion in Beirut in August.
Kassem Moustapha married his girlfriend of more than two years, Racha Chehade, in February while he was in Lebanon for his father’s funeral. Now Moustapha says he’s concerned his wife’s safety if she stays in the country.
“You don’t know what they’re doing back home. You don’t know if other explosions [could happen],” he said. “It’s scary.”
The massive explosion in Beirut’s port district occurred Aug. 4, when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated and flattened buildings within a three-kilometre radius of the blast, killing 190 people and injuring thousands.
Following the explosion, the Canadian government announced it would help citizens and permanent residents return home from Lebanon. Immediate family members of Canadians or permanent residents in urgent need of visitor visas would also have their applications prioritized if they’d been personally affected by the explosion, the government said.
Moustapha initially applied for a spousal sponsorship in May 2020, but decided to also apply for the visitor visa, hoping it would allow his wife to visit for up to six months this fall.
Immigration officer refuses application
Now the couple has learned that their application for the visitor visa was denied by an immigration officer overseas.
“The temporary resident visa was refused, as the immigration officer reviewing the application was not satisfied that Ms. Chehade would leave at the end of the period authorized for her stay,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson Lauren Sankey in a statement.
However, the office of Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s critic for multiculturalism, immigration, refugees and citizenship, who intervened with IRCC on Moustapha’s behalf, was told the application was rejected because, despite having marriage documents, the couple never had a traditional Islamic ceremony.
“Like, my dad just passed away, what do you want me to do a wedding for?” Moustapha said.
MP calls officer’s reason for refusal ‘troubling’
Kwan called it “troubling” that an immigration officer would question the legitimacy of the union, since the couple was legally married.
She said the couple isn’t alone, and said she’s dealing with a number of similar cases involving loved ones stuck in Lebanon.
“[I’m] just trying to say to the government, ‘You made this announcement. Let people come,'” Kwan said.
Moustapha said he’s also contacted his own MP, Catherine McKenna, but hasn’t had much luck.
In a statement to CBC, McKenna said the Liberal government continues to stand with the people of Lebanon as they rebuild their lives following the tragic explosion, and “all applicants can expect impartial, professional treatment and clear, accountable decision-making.”
Meanwhile, Chehade continues to live and work in Beirut where tensions remain high following an explosion.
“She’s depressed, to be honest,” Moustapha said. “She’s not feeling well. She wants to be with me. She wants to be here.”