Happy beginnings

Posted on Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Woman smiles. Other people hold signs in Arabic.

Assma Basalamah, at the moment she saw her aunt, uncle and four cousins arrive in Canada. Photo: Mélanie Provencher

By Mike Foster

It was both a happy ending and a new beginning when Assma Basalamah (LLL ’15, JD '16) was reunited with her Syrian aunt, uncle and four cousins at Toronto Pearson International Airport several weeks ago.

For three years, as she studied at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, Basalamah had filled out forms and navigated immigration processes to try and bring her family members to Canada from Jordan.

Later, as one of 15 law students selected to take part in a unique common law research course associated with uOttawa’s Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, she was paired up with lawyers working pro bono to help private sponsorship groups bring refugees to Canada.

Her aunt Fatima Alqutaifani, uncle, Zuhir Saleh, and four cousins Mustafa, Tuka, Mahdi and Mutassim had fled their home in Douma, Syria, amid heavy shelling after the outbreak of the civil war. Although she had visited her family in Jordan two years ago, it was a tremendous relief to finally see them safe and sound in Canada.

“I saw their faces light up. There was that familiarity,” Basalamah said.

Her first attempt to properly file the paperwork to bring her family to Canada was thwarted when she discovered that the forms had been changed by the government and new ones had to be filled out.

“With the help of a lawyer, Laila Demirdache (LLB ʼ97, LLL ʼ98), we were able to review all of the documents and go through them with a fine-toothed comb,” Basalamah said. “Once we felt everything was ready, we sent it over to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Within days (my family) got a phone call in Jordan to come in and have an interview at the embassy. It was a great success. We were even surprised that the process was so efficient.” Basalamah and her family, along with the Parkdale United Church, jointly sponsored her aunt, uncle and four cousins.

So far, the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, which was created in September 2015 by uOttawa’s Faculty of Law in response to the refugee crisis, has directly assisted an estimated 3,000 refugees. The program has trained about 1,300 lawyers and law students across Canada, helping more than 2,000 sponsors file more than 750 sponsorship applications. Many of the lawyers involved are uOttawa alumni.

Now that she has written her bar exam, Basalamah is job hunting and hopes to secure a position in refugee and immigration law or labour law.

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