Syrian family feels relief after arriving in Charlottetown

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 6, 2016

Amjad Al Rashdan leaves the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada in Charlottetown with his children Basel, left, Idress, middle, and Shatha (missing from the photo is the children's mother Ghouson). The Rashdans were the first government sponsored Syrian refugee family to arrive here on Dec. 28.

©Jim Day/The Guardian

Staying in Syria was no longer an option.

Amjad Al Rashdan and his family of five had suffered long and hard enough.

Life had grown more unsettled with each passing day.

Getting necessities to meet daily needs in the war-torn country had become a major struggle.

Food, when it could be found, was “so expensive’’.

Rashdan would need to wait in line six to seven hours to put gasoline in his car.

Still, the family soldiered on under such harsh circumstances for one-and-a-half years hoping peace and normalcy would return to their lives.

Instead, it got worse.

Gunfire rang through the family’s neighbourhood in Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria.

Then Rashdan saw tanks firing on nearby buildings.

He knew it was time to flee.

“It was too painful for me to leave,’’ he says through an interpreter.

“It was real hard but the situation was unbearable so we had to move on.’’

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Rashdan’s wife, Ghouson, and the couple’s three children - Basel, 10, Shatha, 6, and Idress, 4 — left together for Jordan at the end of 2012.

Rashdan joined his family three months later.

Rashdan found work in the juice industry that saw him working very long hours - a far cry from his successful career in Syria as a veterinarian with the country’s ministry of agriculture.

When he learned that Canada was looking to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, he was hopeful to have his family among this large number.

He says he “understood’’ Canada to have a good standard of living and that the country not only offered shelter to refugees but provided the highest level of services and assistance.

He says the family was “so enthusiastic’’ about starting a new life in Canada.

When he landed with his family at the Charlottetown Airport on Dec. 28, he felt a great sense of relief.

The first week settling in on P.E.I. has only reinforced that positive feeling.

“Everything has been perfect,’’ he says.

“It has gone so smooth.’’

Ten-year-old Basel beams when asked to describe the big, life-changing move.

“I am extremely happy that we are here,’’ he says.

“I will love going to school here and I love Canada.’’

Rashdan hopes one day to return with his family to Syria if and when peace and calm return to that war-torn country.

However, while Rashdan feels he has left a part of him behind, he is focused on moving ahead.

He now hopes for his children to get the highest education possible and for him to be able to provide well for his family.

jday@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay