Magazine article Anglican Journal

Church-Sponsored Syrian Refugees Arrive in Port Colborne

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Church-Sponsored Syrian Refugees Arrive in Port Colborne

Article excerpt

Port Colborne, Ont.

On New Year's Day, a family of refugees from Syria began the last leg of a journey that had lasted almost three years and brought them thousands of kilometres from home.

As they walked toward the car belonging to the Rev. Robert Hurkmans, rector of St. James and St. Brendan, the Anglican church that had sponsored them, Bilal and Hiba* watched as their children, eight-year-old Jana and four-year-old Fares, gazed with delight at the fat snowflakes falling from the sky.

A week later, seated in their freshly painted apartment, Bilal and Hiba served tea while Jana and Fares chased each other around the spacious living room overlooking their quiet residential street.

Bilal and Hiba were warm and energetic in their welcome, and when one of them couldn't find quite the right word to express themselves in English, they would laugh merrily at their own limitations. With the help of interpreter Sima Mahli, they spoke about the journey that brought them from Hama, Syria, to this city on Lake Erie, in the Niagara region of southern Ontario.

In 2013, the Syrian civil war had already been raging for two years, and Bilal and Hiba--Muslims from the city of Hama--were in constant fear for their lives. Hama was controlled by Bashar al-Assad's government troops, but was frequently under attack from rebel forces.

Bilal had a job running a convenience store, but worried that "someone would come into their home and take them" or that an explosion would kill members of his family. They decided to flee to nearby Lebanon, and after taking a long, round-about journey by car to avoid the chaotic and dangerous main highway, they arrived in the port city of Tripoli.

But while Lebanon gave them shelter, it meant starting anew. Over a million Syrians have taken refuge in the small Mediterranean country, which is still trying to recover from its own violent sectarian past, and jobs and shelter are scarce. Bilal was lucky enough to find work as a chef, but it meant working 13-hour days for pay that amounted to only about $400 a month.

Bilal and Hiba often struggled to make ends meet, and paying rent meant they were not always able to afford food; when the children fell ill, medication was often beyond their means. Fortunately, Bilal's brother, Abdul-Raman,* had also fled to Tripoli with his wife and five children, and it was through him that Bilal and his family would ultimately come to Canada. …

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