Syrian refugee family settling into new life in Burnaby

By Luiz Lopes, Globe and Mail |

The Globe and Mail is looking at people who have been touched by the refugee crisis in British Columbia, from sponsors and teachers to the refugees themselves.

Raid Abazeed and Manar Ahmed just had their baby when the call came asking if they would be interested in moving from their exile in Jordan to Canada. A month later, the young Syrian refugee family was on a plane to Vancouver.

They were part of the the first wave of government-assisted refugees arriving in Canada after the newly elected Liberal government promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the new year.

Today, after living in Canada for nearly a year and moving from two different addresses, the family has settled into a two-bedroom apartment in Burnaby.

“If your family feel safe, you feel this is your place, your country,” Mr. Abazeed, the family’s 31-year-old father, said while his one-year-old daughter, Salma, happily danced across their living room to Arabic children songs.

The couple said they remember opening the first pages of the Canadian government’s A Newcomer’s Introduction to Canada, where they found the question: “What do you think Canadians look like?”

Ms. Ahmed said she thought at the time that “maybe they [Canadians] look like Europeans – white, tall, blond hair, blue eyes.” But she said she was surprised to learn Canada’s population is very much diverse, formed by immigrants like herself.

“You’re welcomed as a family. Everywhere, everybody wants to help you, everybody wants to introduce you,” Ms. Ahmed said.

The family has taken part in Canadian festivities in the past year, such as Canada Day. “I felt part of the community,” said Ms. Ahmed. She giggled and said she just didn’t go out on Halloween because she is still too afraid of the costumes.

Mr. Abazeed said his English improved significantly over the year, which motivated him to apply for a job as a bus driver with TransLink, the Vancouver region’s transit authority. “I passed the first test and I did an interview last Tuesday. I am just waiting now,” he said.

“Because in the past six years, almost all life in Syria stopped, so you almost stop thinking about your future,” Mr. Abazeed said. “Now we’re in Canada, there’s a lot of opportunities to start with, better, other projects you can do here.”

Ms. Ahmed also has a friend who helps her with English lessons every week. But she said finding a job is still hard for other families as they need more time to learn the language and integrate, on top of the high costs of living in Metro Vancouver.

All government-assisted refugees are provided a monthly support allowance, which mirrors the base rates of the province’s income assistance program. On top of that, they also receive a transportation allowance so they can access settlement services, community resources, language classes and employment searches.

The Syrian couple first met in Jordan two years ago, while volunteering to help Syrian children with disabilities caused by bombings.

Both had to flee Syria as the war and massacre continued unabated.

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