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Ontario’s Syrian Refugees: Living with the Memories

Abeer and Ramez immigrated from Dimaska, Syria to Ontario, along with their children, Yaman (4) and Hanan (6). The family witnessed many atrocities in Syria, involving fighting and death. Their description of their life in Syria is described as if speaking of a trip to the store, but, in truth, it is reiterating a life once filled with tragedy where death always seemed to be lurking just around the corner.

No one was safe. No value was placed on the lives of the peaceful.

“Some families in Syria do not have anything to eat. When children are small, they are not safe. ‘They’ will take a child from its mother’s arms, and right in front of her, they will kill them; they can do anything that they would like, and would cover their faces and shoot innocent people,” — Ramez.

Abeer is no stranger to these afflictions: he recounts an incident. He cannot change what has happened, but the memory of the starkness of reality remains.

“My sister was cooking dinner one day, in her home, and these people came in and shot her. They shoot mainly younger women and girls, as to prevent reproduction.”

The family’s children were very young while living in Syria. They lived a life of fear – they awoke in fear and slept in fear.

The constant roaring of guns, the noise of the killings was accepted as a way of life. Yaman and Hanan would lay low to the floor in terror; they would cry, fearful and scared; nothing escaped them, the noise, the guns, even helicopters hovering above them, shooting innocent people as if they were targets in a game. These unspeakable horrors witnessed by Yaman and Hanan caused unspeakable suffering. Their parents made the ultimate decision to flee their home, the only life they knew, for the safety of their beloved children. They knew that the escape would be risky, but felt it necessary to flee.

Ramez and Abeer left Dimaska with their children, by car, and sought refuge at a friend’s home for two months. The family then fled Syria by bus, escaping to Lebanon. After buying a plane ticket from Lebanon to Turkey, the family stayed at Ramez’s brother’s home for three months, then proceeded to rent a house. They remained in Turkey for three years and eight months and were then brought to Canada through private sponsors.

Ramez had worked alongside his father while in Syria, running a gas station. He explains that shortly after the conflicts began, their gas station was burned to the ground. There was nothing left for them and nothing they could do to recover what was lost. Ramez does not know who the people who committed the heinous crimes were: their faces were covered. Nonetheless, if Ramez did know, it would not have made a difference: the criminals would simply shoot at those who protested against their horrendous actions.

Ramez completed secondary education in Syria, and found work in Turkey. However, finding work in Canada for Ramez has proven to be more challenging, due to the language barrier. Abeer is also burdened with a lack of English and is illiterate: she never learned how to read or write. Abeer did not attend school in Syria because her father did not allow the girls in her family to attend classes further than the sixth grade.

The entire family is now enrolled in the “Link” program, sponsored by the Canadian government. This program offers ESL programs for both children and adults. The levels range from zero to seven, Ramez must obtain his level four before he can find work, as Canadian language requirements are stringent.

The family is now thriving within Canadian borders. They feel a lot safer than in Syria, although they were robbed recently, and now genuinely fear that the event will repeat itself. The children enjoy playing with their friends, watching TV, and attending school. Hanan is very shy, opposite her younger brother. They both speak English proficiently.

“We are lucky that Hanan and Yaman were very young while in Syria, and that they do not struggle from PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. “Our children had the chance to forget these horrible events; we did not. We remember everything… A friend of our family, who came from Syria as well, has teenage children. These kids suffer from PTSD and must partake in endless therapy sessions, as they can remember everything.” — Ramez

Despite these final hurdles, the couple feels now blessed, and they are expecting a third child. After she delivers the baby and finishes her schooling, Abeer plans to find work: “Chef, hairdresser, anything.” — Abeer

The couple miss their friends and family back in Syria, but are grateful to be in Canada. This young family and their brave, bright children show much promise, and they will continue to benefit from our community.

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