Merell Awad is on pins and needles awaiting word that her family, which she says has been left behind in Syria, can board a flight to Canada.
Awad says her family has been left in limbo after her middle sister, Rania Nassar, her husband and two daughters, were left out of a wave of Syrians admitted into Canada as refugees last year.
Awad’s sister is in Latakia – one of the safer areas of Syria – but rockets are still crashing all around them.
“Explosions are still ongoing and people are dying but you can’t tell when,” Awad says. “It’s unstable. When an explosion is going to happen, no one knows. Where? No one knows. It might happen anytime, anywhere.”
In the meantime, Campbell River’s Syrian Refugee Support Committee, which is working with St. Peter’s Anglican Church to sponsor the family, as well as two family members of Awad’s husband, Fouad, are struggling here at home with the state of the housing market.
The committee is trying to secure rental housing for the Syrian families so that they have homes once they arrive in Campbell River.
But Awad says rental prices seem to have skyrocketed and they’ve been quoted between $1,400-$1,600 on a couple of townhouses they’ve looked at.
“It’s getting harder and harder in Campbell River to find rentals,” Awad says. “Rentals are very expensive, way more than we expected. We still have two families to come, so we need a lot more to reach our goal because housing prices have gone up.”
Last year, the committee was fortunate enough to find a townhouse in Willow Point for Awad’s youngest sister, Huda Nassar, her husband Madi Barhoum and their two teenaged sons, Elias and Leon.
The family arrived in Campbell River as refugees in June and are still settling into life in Canada.
They’ve found employment and the boys are doing well with their studies but are facing some societal challenges.
The boys are planning to transfer from Timberline at the end of the month to start the next semester at Carihi.
Elias, meanwhile, continues to receive medical care and has been undergoing treatment at BC Children’s Hospital at least once a month while he awaits a kidney transplant.
Awad’s mother, Samira Mitias, who also arrived in Campbell River last June, lives with Awad and her husband.
Awad says for her sister, reality is just starting to set in.
“She’s starting to notice the effects of what happened, how it affected their life, how much stress they were actually under in Syria,” Awad says. “When you’re there, living it, you think, ‘it’s okay, we’re used to it‚‘ but once you change your life you realize, ‘it wasn’t safe.’ She’s noticed that her shoulder and neck pain from the stress is gone now.”
Awad says the Syrians enjoyed their first Canadian Christmas thanks to the efforts of volunteers from the Anglican church who decorated Nassar and Barhoum’s house, put up a Christmas tree, and showed up one evening to sing Christmas carols at their door and bring gifts for the family.
“Christmas was wonderful. They were blessed and overwhelmed,” Awad says.”They took Christmas on their shoulders and brought it to the family.”
Awad says the only thing missing was their sister who is feeling abandoned in Syria.
“It was the worst Christmas for them, while here it was the best Christmas,” Awad says. “Because my sister, all her family is here now and the kids were close to their auntie and grandma and they feel left behind. It was hard on them. We miss our sister so much.”
Awad says it’s frustrating because her sister, Rania, and her two daughters have completed the required medical tests and interviews and were given approval last October to come to Canada.
Now three months later, they’re still waiting for a phone call from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to give the official go-ahead for them to get on a plane.
“We’re still waiting on their transportation so they can fly here,” Awad says. “We’re waiting and hoping it will happen anytime. What we’re waiting for, we don’t know. Why the delay? We’re hoping for more news next month.”
Awad’s family members are among thousands of Syrians who were left behind after the federal government reached its 25,000 Syrian refugee quota that it set for 2016.
“Thousands of families are waiting and feel like they’ve been left behind,” Awad says. “They promised all those with paperwork in by February (of last year) that they would be here in 2016 and we’re still waiting.”
Awad says her family had their papers approved in January, 2016 and medical tests were completed in mid-February of last year.
So now, Awad says, it’s a “waiting process.”
In the meantime, the Campbell River Syrian Refugee Committee has a number of fundraisers on the horizon to raise money to house the refugees once they arrive and support the families in setting up their new lives.
This Saturday, Jan. 28, the band Inclusion is playing at the Community Centre, starting at 6 p.m., by donation in support of the refugee committee.
Then on April 21, the committee will host a burger and beer night in the Royal Coachman’s Carriage Room, with live entertainment courtesy of vocalist Cat Kalyniuk.
The committee is also planning to publish a Syrian cookbook, full of pictures and recipes from the Awads’ kitchen.
“They’re our recipes for traditional Syrian food and they’re 100 per cent authentic,” says Awad, who owns BaBa Gannouj restaurant with her husband.
For more information on the committee, its fundraisers, and to suggest ideas for future fundraisers, visit the Campbell River Syrian Refugee Support Committee. The committee is also accepting donations via Canada Helps which can be accessed through the committee’s Facebook page.