Huda Nassar (left) and Nassar’s son

Refugee effort about to bear fruit

Awad family ecstatic about arrival of mother and sister’s family

After months of sleepless nights and constant worry, Merell Awad’s family is expected to arrive in Campbell River tomorrow, having escaped from war-torn Syria.

Awad’s ailing mother, her sister, her sister’s husband and two teenage sons, who are 13 and 16, made the long journey to their new home after leaving Syria several months ago.

The family left Lebanon, where they had been staying while awaiting approval to enter Canada, in the wee hours of this morning and were expected to touch down in Vancouver later today.

Awad, who on Monday was fielding phone calls and arranging transportation for the refugees to Campbell River, said she had mixed feelings about seeing her family for the first time in six years.

“I am so happy, so excited, so grateful and so sad,” she said. “So happy and excited that I’m going to meet my mom and sister and her family. So grateful for Campbell River and area and everyone who’s helped make this come true. But sad because my other sister and her kids can’t come.”

Merell’s sister and her two daughters, along with the parents of her husband’s nephew, are still in Syria awaiting approval to come to Canada and there’s no word of when they will be able to enter the country.

But for now, Awad is thrilled to help the family that she can.

Her mother, who has one leg and had open heart surgery several years ago, will be staying with her and husband while her sister and her family will live in a rental home secured by Campbell River’s Syrian Refugee Committee.

The committee, made up of roughly 25 caring Campbell Riverites, was formed last year to help Awad bring 12 of her family members to Campbell River after St. Peter’s Anglican Church agreed to sponsor the refugees.

Awad had been trying to help her family escape Syria for the past two and a half years as the situation in that country became increasingly volatile.

Awad, who co-owns BaBa Gannouj restaurant, said her family survived rockets landing mere kilometres from their homes and, on once occasion, near her niece’s school. After one attack, the windows of her mother’s home were blown out. Awad said with each phone call to her mom, she worried that it might be their last.

“I talk to her every day, we say ‘I love you’ and we don’t know if we’ll talk again,” Awad told the Mirror in September. “Every day you deal with that.”

But with the help of parishioners from St. Peter’s, as well as the Syrian Refugee Committee members and other local churches, what once seemed impossible to Awad is now a reality.

“Without this generous society, it couldn’t have happened and I couldn’t meet my family,” Awad said. “I am so grateful. All the people – it’s just amazing how people get together and help.”

The committee, through several community fundraisers, has raised nearly $90,000 and counting over the past year.

The group has also secured a rental home for Awad’s sister’s family and has been paying rent on the home since March, when word had originally come down that the family would be coming to Campbell River with the wave of refugees that the Trudeau government approved earlier this year.

But the excitement was short lived when Awad discovered the family was being held up in Lebanon.

Her family had been granted travel visas earlier in the year and was cleared medically to enter Canada, but travel authority was delayed and the family was left in limbo for nearly four months.

“We had been paying rent on the house for three months and we were just about to give it back when we heard they were coming,” Awad said.

Since then, donations have been coming in from the community, items like new sheets and plants for the house to make it feel like home. Local churches have also been collecting other necessary items for around the home. The City of Campbell River is providing free bus passes for one year to the family who will be in need of transportation upon their arrival.

“The Campbell River community is amazing,” said an overwhelmed Awad. “I will never forget this.”