‘We didn’t talk about the bombs’: How the 1st cohort of Syrian refugees made it through high school in Canada

June 25, 2019

By CBC News |

Teens create new lives, find hope after fleeing civil war

Marwa Nakhleh’s voice barely registers above a whisper as she recounts the horrors she witnessed on the streets of Damascus.

“It was terrible,” she says of seeing a car bomb go off in her neighbourhood, vividly recalling the darkness that followed. “There’s no electricity, and it’s dark, and people looking for their family and their friends.” Her mother, she says, ran out of the house in a panic, trying to find her.

Guns, bombs and people dying are the scenes she registered as an 11-year-old growing up in Syria’s capital.

Nakhleh is among the first wave of Syrian refugees Canada admitted in 2015-2016 — and she’s among the first students from that group who are now graduating from a Canadian high school.

When the Arab Spring became a nightmare for Syria’s civilians in 2011, and what would become one of the deadliest wars in history broke out, Nakhleh’s parents gathered their four children and headed for the nearest safe place — Lebanon, which was already teeming with refugees.

Nakhleh, 19, says she was unable to continue school in Lebanon, where her family spent four years awaiting resettlement.

Families on the run
As the war in Syria raged and spread, Ammar Jouma’s family cautiously watched and waited at their home in the coastal city of Latakia. In 2012, they too were forced to flee, leaving everything behind.

Their search for safety took them to Turkey, where Jouma’s father was able to find a job. But the days were long and the pay meagre, so Jouma, 12 years old at the time, went to work to help support his family.

“We faced a lot of problems there. We faced a lot of tragedies until we came to Canada — and that was three years ago.”

School plays a pivotal role
As the humanitarian crisis deepened in Syria, Canada agreed to resettle an unprecedented 25,000 refugees, most of them families with children.

At Edmonton’s Queen Elizabeth High School, principal Sue Bell assembled the staff and prepared for the influx. The school already had a large population of immigrant students and was set to accept as many of the Syrians as it could handle.

“I know that whoever walks through our door, we’re going to be welcoming and we’re going to have a place for them to be, and they’re going to love it here,” Bell told CBC News in 2015.

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