Syrian refugees: the ones left behind

Caroly Buckley & Carol Alette 

It has been two years since the Syrian crisis captured the world’s attention and the hearts and minds of Canadians. Ottawa has proudly welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees, and the community of Old Ottawa East has done its part, sponsoring a number of families.

The Yakoub-Shalhoub family enjoying the sights and sounds of an Ottawa summer during last year’s Tulip Festival at Dow’s Lake. From L to R: Basam, Rana, Batrisia, George and Andria. Photo by Carol Alette

The Yakoub-Shalhoub family enjoying the sights and sounds of an Ottawa summer during last year’s Tulip Festival at Dow’s Lake. From L to R: Basam, Rana, Batrisia, George and Andria. Photo by Carol Alette

Among those who have arrived in Ottawa is the Yakoub-Shalhoub family, which was sponsored by the Brantwood Sponsorship Group, a group of committed volunteers from Old Ottawa East. The Yakoub-Shalhoub family arrived from Syria via Lebanon in October 2016. They settled into a South Keys neighbourhood, where the children – Batrisia (11), George (7) and Andria (4) – are thriving in school, learning both English and French. Their parents, Rana and Basam, are in language school, and Basam looks forward to putting his plumbing and building skills to use in Canada.

Although the official duties of the Brantwood Sponsorship Group were over as of October 2017, volunteers have continued to spend enjoyable time with the family. Activities have moved past the dental visits, budgets and vaccinations to piano lessons, gardening, playing games and enjoying the family’s delicious Syrian cooking.

Like other newcomers to Canada, Basam and Rana’s family has faced challenges in understanding an unfamiliar culture, learning a new language, managing in a different climate and missing friends and family that were close by at home. However, they have embraced their new lives in Ottawa with vigour. They have skied, skated, tobogganed and snow-shoed, and they have taken swimming lessons and mastered the bike paths from Hunt Club to Brantwood Park. Last summer, they could be found BBQing kabobs at Mooney’s Bay and fishing (catch and release) along the Rideau River.

The Yakoub/Shalhoubs are similar to other newcomers – their relief and gratitude to be living in Canada is tempered by worry for relatives still in Syria and Lebanon. Basam is most worried about his brother, whose three children include a newborn and a one-year-old.

His brother’s family is living just across the border from Syria in rural Lebanon, and although they are away from the active fighting, their lives are very difficult. Syrian refugees cannot legally work in Lebanon, so they are surviving on a very small stipend from the United Nations. School is intermittent for the oldest child and discrimination towards Syrians, especially Christians such as this family, is rampant.

Last year, locals blocked roads and burned vehicles in protest against the local economic impact of Syrian refugees working illegally. This family has no future in Lebanon and Syria remains in the grip of war. Reuniting the Yakoub brothers and their families would be a wonderful gift from our community!

Finding a sponsor to bring family members to Ottawa is difficult. The Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization has been able to find only one sponsor for every ten requests. Many Ottawans who stepped up generously in 2016 and 2017 with their time and money have moved on to other causes.

With two years of experience behind them and a core group of dedicated volunteers, the Brantwood Sponsorship Group has agreed to sponsor Basam’s brother, his wife and their children. Reuniting the Yakoub brothers and their families would be a wonderful gift from our community!

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Filed in: Community Groups, Front Page

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