Syrian refugees overcoming war memories brought back by COVID-19

By Maan Alhmidi
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Five years after the first of them arrived in Canada, thousands of Syrian refugees had to adapt to the COVID-19 lockdown, which brought back memories of the horrors of the war and disturbed the lives they had begun to recreate.

On 10 December 2015, following a promise made by the Liberals during the 2015 election campaign to make it far easier to reach Canada, the first aircraft carrying Syrian refugees landed in Toronto.

As of April 2017, a total of 45,919 Syrian refugees were settled in Canada and continued their arrival thereafter under other programs.

Dima Naserlden arrived in Montreal three years ago with her husband and her two sons. Earlier this year, as he began enjoying his new life in Canada, the city went into lockdown, forcing him to stay home and keep his action plans.

“Initially, we were worried and scared,” she said.

“Suddenly, the roads were empty, shops were closed. It was similar to war. “

Before coming to Canada, Nasserdalen spent years hiding with mortar shells in the suburb of Damascus with his family.

He said that the first few months of the COVID-19 epidemic put him in the same grave concern he lived in Syria.

“We will always listen to the siren of the ambulance and wait for the news,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

Syrian Canadian Foundation co-founder and executive director, Bayan Khatib, said that Syrian newcomers worked with him, saying that they had been locked in their homes in Syria for months to a year due to frequent bombings outside and their incompetence. To leave the city.

“It’s hard to see, for all the people wearing masks, perhaps, people coming from areas that were attacked with chemical weapons,” he said.

Khatib’s organization is based in Mississauga, Ontario, and provides services for newcomers in several cities in Ontario.

He said that a lot of Syrian families have come from places where schools were closed due to the war, so when the schools were closed earlier this year, they must have felt terrible.

“In their new home now experiencing a second lockdown as they try to live life in a safe place, that sure has been very challenging and extra stressful for them.”

Prior to the epidemic, Nasserladeen, 34, pursued a passion for drawing and attended a few art shows in Montreal with other artists. Her first show at the Montreal Art Center was closed from May to December, then scrubbed.

“It was a disappointment” he said. “At first, (the show) was delayed and I felt I would get more time to prepare, then it was a shock that it was canceled.”

Her husband Ayam Abu Ammar is an actor and musician. In February, he finished shooting his part as the lead actor in a Canadian film about a Syrian family that moved to Canada, but the film’s release was also halted until the following year.

“It was to be shown at several festivals, but it was all canceled,” he said.

36-year-old Abu Ammar said that he feels that he lost the joy of watching his first film on the big screen.

“It’s a turning point to see your work in the cinema,” he said. “I still hope it releases next year.”

Abu Ammar has occasionally taught music to youth in Montreal, but with limited participation due to physical-discrimination rules.

The career shift was more dramatic for Noor Sakhania, who completed his training to become a pilot last year in Ottawa, almost four years after landing in Canada with his family.

Saikhania was hired by Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife in December 2019, but was closed in March due to an epidemic.

Returning to Ottawa, 23-year-old Sakhinia had to work for survival, including deliveries and personal groceries.

“You work hard for four years and you spend a lot of money on training and your dreams … Then, you (have) let it all go.”

“I believe this is not just my case. This is the case of many pilots, whether beginners or pilots who have years of experience, will have to let it go due to an epidemic.”

He was active in organizing events for the Syrian community in the city and had coached a football team for immigrant children last year, but this year he was on hold.

“In our countries, we had a habit of having a circle of support from family and friends … For many Syrians, during the war, they all went to their family homes to support each other,” he said. said. “During an epidemic, it’s really hard to do that, especially in Canada (where) you don’t have a family sometimes. Although you have a family sometimes, it will be hard because you have to separate yourself. Will happen. “

He now works as a manager in a restaurant in the city of Ottawa. Having been slower than aviation for many years, he plans to study aerospace engineering at Carlton University next year.

Naseraldeen is also making a new career path for herself, when she is unable to make a living of painting in the near future. She recently finished training as a makeup artist.

She said that it is now difficult for her to create the artwork, with the amount of uncertainty the COVID-19 epidemic thrust into her. Even then he said he still had hope.

“We were living in a war zone and we had lost our jobs and homes and there was always hope,” she said. “I’m always optimistic … and I’m sure good things will follow.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020

The story was produced with the financial support of Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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