Julie Angus of the Fairfield Sponsorship Refugee Group

Syrian refugees embracing new life in Victoria

Julie Angus was tingling with excitement the moment she stepped off her plane and started searching for her Syrian relatives.

Julie Angus was tingling with excitement the moment she stepped off her plane and started searching for her Syrian relatives on a layover in the Vancouver airport.

The first person she found near her gate was her cousin Nour Wafai, who she last saw eight years ago in Syria when he was 12 years old. Emotions went into overdrive once she saw her uncle Bassam, aunt Alia and two other cousins Rawan, 11 and Toulip, 15.

“It was really overwhelming. We all cried and hugged and just enjoyed being in the moment and seeing each other again and knowing that they were here and could have a future again,” said Angus, adding the look on the family’s faces was a combination of sheer joy and fatigue.

“They had been in airports up until that point and suddenly it was, it’s Julie, this is Canada, we are finally here.”

On her way to Cranbrook to shoot a commercial with Survivorman’s Les Straud, Angus bid farewell to her relatives who were bound for Victoria thanks to the Fairfield Sponsorship Refugee Group.

In November, the group of 16 strangers (including Angus) came together to raise the $55,000 needed to bring the family of five to Victoria and support them during their first year.

Angus, who went to Syria eight years ago and stayed at her uncle’s home in Aleppo, felt compelled to help after hearing the family had fled the country due to the war.

In March 2015, the Wafai family paid a smuggler to take them across the border into Turkey — a dangerous journey with check points and mine fields along the way. Even though they arrived at their destination safely, their new life wasn’t easy. Unable to work, they eked out an existence in a small rented home not far from the Syrian border.

“There was just no future for them. They were very much in a holding pattern, hoping for an opportunity to start a new life,” said Angus, noting her uncle has a degree in English and his wife is a hairdresser.

Prepared for the family’s arrival since Christmas, the sponsorship group was anxiously awaiting for the day they’d get to meet the Wafais. It wasn’t until about two weeks ago — and many set backs — the group finally received a firm arrival date, but the celebrations didn’t begin until the family was in the air.

“There was still a tiny part of me that worried something could go wrong,” said Angus, noting the family wasn’t initially allowed on the flight due to a mistake with their exit visa.

So far the family is adjusting well to their new Canadian life in the furnished apartment donated by two professors at the University of Victoria. Many of the sponsors are with the family every day, helping set up bank accounts, get social insurance numbers and assessed for English classes.

Living briefly in Canada 25 years ago, Bassam is fluent in English, but Alia has a limited vocabulary.

Nour already has a job working as a dishwasher at the Old Spaghetti Factory and is making new friends. Even though he finished high school in Syria, he’ll need to upgrade some of his courses before he can pursue additional education. The two young girls are slated to attend an art camp next week.

Bassam hasn’t stopped smiling since he arrived in Victoria.

“You can’t imagine it. It’s like a dream, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I feel now it’s comfortable for the future of my family. Everything here is available. If you work hard, you will be at the top.”

Through their fundraising efforts, the Fairfield group managed to raise enough money to sponsor a second family — a single mother (who’s a chemistry teacher) and her two young children, aged two and four, along with her two brothers, who are both computer engineers fluent in English.

Angus was made aware of the family through a personal connection of her father. Their application is still being reviewed and processed, but excitement is already building for their arrival.

“We felt very strongly about helping this mom because it’s very difficult being a single mom, let alone a single mother Syrian refugee,” said Angus, noting the family likely won’t be here until the end of the year or early next year. “Both brothers are very keen to come to Canada and be able to start or join a company in computer engineering. We feel that they’ll be a great addition to Canada.”

More than 27,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada since November. Locally, Victoria has welcomed more than 28 privately sponsored refugees and 170 government-assisted refugees.

 

 

Just Posted

New Coast Guard ship crashes into Ogden Point breakwater

‘It is fairly unprecedented that it would happen’

Sidney group offers free, fun ‘trishaw’ bike rides to seniors

Physical disability and mental obstruction no barrier to trips around town

Student Voice: Vic astronomer tracking the New Horizons path

Local astronomer part of team studying New Horizons spacecraft

Second non-stop flight added between Prince George and Victoria

Starting June 23 flyers will have the choice of flying in the morning or afternoon

The shores will not rock in 2019

Atomique Productions announce Rock the Shores festival will not return in 2019, future is uncertain

Victoria hosts ‘Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave’

The hockey cave was recently featured on a Netflix special

Calgary captain has 3 points as Flames torch Canucks 3-1

Giordano leads way as Alberta side cracks 100-point plateau

Fire crews battle large blaze at Courtenay hostel

Courtenay Fire Chief Don Bardonnex said nobody was injured

1,300 cruise ship passengers rescued by helicopter amid storm off Norway’s coast

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances

B.C. university to offer first graduate program on mindfulness in Canada

University of the Fraser Valley says the mostly-online program focuses on self-care and well being

Province announces $18.6 million for B.C. Search and Rescue

The funding, spread over three years, to pay for operations, equipment, and training

Late-season wave of the flu makes its round in B.C.

BC Centre for Disease Control reported 50 per cent jump in flu cases in first weeks of March

Tofino’s housing crisis causing some to seek shelter at the local hospital

Tofino’s housing crisis is pushing the town’s ‘hidden homeless’ population into the forefront.

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years

Most Read