Syrian refugees say Canadian sponsors prove the world is going ‘to be OK’

The Alhajalis are animated, talking over one another as they compare the prosperous and peaceful pre-revolution life they enjoyed in Syria to the daily struggles they now face as 10 of the 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

IRBID, Jordan — The Alhajalis are animated, talking over one another as they compare the prosperous and peaceful pre-revolution life they enjoyed in Syria to the daily struggles they now face as 10 of the 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Nine-year-old Adnan grabs his mother’s cellphone, his two brothers and cousin huddle to play video games, chattering away, while his two-year-old sister Abeer gets her hands on another phone and toddles around pretending to have a conversation.

Emad, 28, is in the midst of discussing how hard it’s been to find work in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid when there’s a pounding at the door.

Everyone, even the kids, tenses up. Even though they’re heading soon to the safety of Canada, the fear of Syria still hovers.

Emad’s wife Razan, 28, places a hand on her stomach — she’s pregnant with her third child — and the colour drains from her face.

Emad’s cousin, Awad, gets up and pulls back the heavy wooden door.

A neighbour’s child in is the hallway. He wants to know if the boys can come out to play.

Razan exhales.

Back in Syria, her son Mohammad, now 7, was so afraid all the time that his hair began to fall out. Things are at least safer in Jordan, she says, but that doesn’t mean they want to stay.

“All we want,” she says, through a translator, “is some peace and some security.”

In a matter of days, they hope to be on their way there — Razan and Emad’s family is among the 10,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees likely to be in Canada by year’s end as part of the Liberal government’s commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.

Awad, 34, and his wife Asmaa, 34, are eventually bound for Canada as well, having found their own private sponsors in the same community — Orangeville, Ont., about an hour west of Toronto.

Razan and Emad had been hoping they might be offered a space in Canada through the resettlement program with the United Nations, even though they heard there weren’t many available, Emad says.

They wanted Canada specifically because they felt it was too dangerous for Muslims in the U.S., and Europe was turning people away.

Then, about 14 months ago, a Canadian friend of a friend of theirs pointed out the private sponsorship system and offered to help with the paperwork.

The friend had suggested that because Razan is trained as a nurse and a midwife, the family would be a good fit for Canada given those are occupations in demand.

A connection was made eventually with a group from Westminster United Church in Orangeville hoping to sponsor a family. The paperwork was filled out — and then the waiting began.

“When we heard there was a new government in Canada, we thought things would start maybe moving a bit faster,” Emad says.

A month ago, they were called for their health exams, and earlier this week handed over their passports for what they believe are exit visas.

Now they await the phone call telling them when their flight will depart for Canada. Only then will they start packing, but in the meantime, the family’s preparing in other ways.

The first time they Googled Orangeville, they saw it was near a body of water and thought maybe it was the Atlantic Ocean rather than Lake Ontario, Razan laughs.

They’ve heard about the snow and the cold, and were touched when their sponsors promised to bring warm items of clothing to the airport. They speak with their sponsors often and each time learn a little more about what awaits them in Canada.

Questions linger.

Razan is hoping to continue working but isn’t sure how to get her credentials recognized. And will they be able to buy the same spices to make the family’s favourite meals?

Mohammad wants to know: will he finally get his own room?

Right now, he shares with his cousins in cramped quarters for two families who once had their own two-storey homes with gardens and chickens in the yard.

Taped to the kids’ closets in their bedroom are lists of English words like snow, stormy, today, yesterday and their Arabic equivalents.

Awad put them there and tacked a list up on their brown kitchen cabinets too.

He decided it was important to get everyone practising their English, even if they don’t know yet when they’ll all be able to speak it in Canada together.

While Emad and Razan are leaving soon, Awad and his wife, Asmaa, aren’t clear on the status of their own applications.

The family says the uncertainty is tiring, though their sponsors have been nothing but supportive throughout and are often in touch.

Awad is feeling the strain of not being able to find steady work, and Asmaa is frustrated by how the kids are struggling in the Syrian-only schools set up by the Jordanian government.

“You feel (Jordanians) are looking at Syrians as disgusting,” she says.

They’ve heard Canadians, on the other hand, are warm and welcoming, and don’t fear the experience of moving to a culture so different than their own.

Irbid has a quarter of a million people, nearly entirely Muslim, and a major population of Syrian refugees, many from the same province.

Orangeville has 27,000 people and according to the 2011 National Household Survey, 55 Muslims.

But Syrian culture isn’t anything that’s commonplace in Jordan, either, Emad says.

“The general situation here is that nobody likes to help, nobody wants to help,” he says. “So, it’s a surprise when people across the world want to help you.”

Razan jumps in.

“It means the world is going to be OK.”

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