Syrian family escapes war-torn country for new life in N.S.
Published Tuesday, December 9, 2014 7:24PM AST
A Syrian family is relieved to be in the Maritimes after escaping the violence in their home country, but say they are worried for the more than two million Syrian refugees still searching for safety.
Fadi Masalmeh, his wife Maes and their three young daughters are among the first privately-sponsored Syrian refugees to come to Nova Scotia. They arrived at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport 12 days ago.
Now they are growing accustomed to life in Canada as they stay with Fadi’s brother, Maher Masalmeh, who lives in Kentville, N.S.
“I just saw him and gave him a hug. It was kind of a relief,” says Maher.
“He says adrenaline was like 100 per cent,” says Fadi.
The brothers were very close growing up in Syria, but Maher admits he wasn’t sure if they would ever see each other again.
“His life was in danger,” he says of his brother.
A cellphone technician by trade, and with no medical background, Fadi volunteered with mobile medical clinics in besieged areas of Daraa, assisting the wounded, sick and elderly after the Assad government attacked its own people.
The dangerous work put Fadi in the crosshairs of snipers and the country’s secret police.
“If he gets caught, he knows what’s waiting for him,” says Maher’s brother-in-law, Mohamed Masalmeh. “People who get caught by the Syrian secret police either die or come out in a wheelchair.”
Mohamed is one of Fadi’s five private sponsors and he says it took a mountain of paperwork to bring him and his family to Nova Scotia.
Nothing had happened almost two years into the process, until Mohamed contacted the Halifax-based Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia, and refugee sponsorship co-ordinator Evelyn Jones stepped in.
“She was really helpful and great lady,” says Mohamed. “She helped us out with the application. She said ‘oh, you have more than enough documentation.’”
“The Syrian crisis is one that just has staggering numbers,” says Jones. “So, if you were to take Syria and place it in Canadian context, you’d have to imagine all of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and the Maritimes are now deserted.”
Roughly 2.5 million Syrians have fled the country while another 6.5 million have been displaced within it.
“There are a lot of people who are in a devastating state,” says Fadi.
“It’s really frustrating that even though Syria right now, with the refugees, is one of the worst situations in recent history, Canada hasn’t pulled even close to its weight in this situation,” says Mohamed.
“We could be doing so much more,” agrees Jones.
The United Nations has asked the Canadian government to do more. Last year Ottawa committed to taking in 1,300 Syrian refugees, but fewer than 400 had entered Canada by mid-November.
In comparison, Sweden has taken in about 18,000.
As for Fadi, Maher says his brother realizes he is one of the lucky ones.
“He said ‘I’m very, very happy to be here and it’s a big change for me’ and he’s very grateful to be here.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter