Refugee committee member Mary Cook

‘Campbell River’s’ Syrian refugees: so close, yet so far

Merell Awad hasn’t slept in nearly a week. She’s on pins and needles anxiously awaiting news about her Syrian family who are waiting to enter Canada as refugees.

It’s been a long road for Awad who has been working tirelessly to get her family out of war-torn Syria and into Campbell River to carve out new lives for themselves.

With the help of a 25-person committee of caring community members, enough money has been raised to sponsor seven of Awad’s family members.

Awad’s sister, her sister’s husband and their two teenaged sons, who are 13 and 16, as well as Awad’s mother, who has one leg and heart problems, have left Syria and are in Lebanon, where they arrived on Nov. 1 and are awaiting word that they can fly into Canada.

One of those boys is Awad’s nephew, Elias, whom Campbell Riverites rallied to raise money for more than five years ago so he could receive a kidney transplant when he was 10 years old.

Rounding out the group awaiting a flight to Canada are the parents of Sam Almouallem, a young man who escaped Syria by flying to the United States and then crossing over the Canadian border on foot. Almouallem has since obtained refugee status and is living with Awad and her husband Fouad, the owners of BaBa Gannouj restaurant.

Awad says while she’s thrilled to have her family members out of Syria, it’s been difficult being left in the dark as to when they will be able to leave Lebanon.

“We just don’t know,” she says. “No one knows when it’s going to happen.”

The seven family members have recently completed medical tests and a lengthy interview process – an interview can take up to two and a half to three hours – conducted through the Canadian embassy set up in Lebanon.

They’ve been given the go-ahead to enter Canada but they are still in limbo.

“It might happen anytime now,” Awad says. “We might get a call in seven days, we might get a call in two weeks. No one knows. It might happen at anytime.”

When it does happen, the family is expected to fly into Toronto and from there, board a flight to Vancouver.

Mary Cook, a parishioner at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, who got her church to help sponsor the family, said the hope is to get them from Vancouver to Campbell River as quickly as possible.

Once here, the families will move into rental properties that the local committee has been working to secure.

Awad says the families are extremely excited to start new lives in Campbell River and Awad is thrilled to have them.

“I didn’t sleep for a couple of days,” she says. “I’m so excited, so thankful, so grateful, so overwhelmed. Up until now I couldn’t believe it, until now I was thinking ‘is this real? Are they really going to come here?’ I’m so happy my mom is coming.”

And, she says, it wouldn’t have been possible without all of the people with big hearts who came forward to help, including all of the local businesses who stepped up in such big ways.

Island Home Furniture, for example, gave the committee one free bed for each one the volunteers purchased while the Gathering Place donated five per cent of its January profits towards sponsoring the refugees.

Willow Point Wines will be donating 10 per cent of the profits it makes off people who make cranberry wine and Storey Creek Golf Club donated some of the proceeds from a recent function.

The family members who will be settling in Campbell River are bringing three dogs with them, dogs which Awad says have been therapeutic and comforting for her family members who have experienced the effects of war and trauma.

Awad says Dogwood Pet Mart will supply the dogs with free food for one year while Dogwood Veterinary Hospital, Merecroft Veterinary Clinic and the veterinary clinic near Greenwood Street have volunteered to provide free medical check ups and vaccines for the dogs for one year.

Meanwhile, while Awad awaits the arrival of her first seven family members, there are others still waiting and wanting to come to Canada.

Awad’s sister, her husband and two children have thus far been refused entry to Canada because of missing information, as has Awad’s husband’s cousin. A cousin of Awad was ready to come to Canada but declined at the last minute to stay with her dad who is ill.

And while Awad waits for word as to when her family may arrive, she and the Campbell River Syrian Refugee Committee haven’t stopped working to raise the money needed to help the family get settled.








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