Leaving Syria: Life in Vancouver as a refugee (part 1)

Part 1 of a four-part series about how one Syrian refugee is adjusting to life in B.C.

I never imagined that one day I would live in Vancouver as a refugee. I was born very far away in the Syrian city of Hasaka. As a child, whenever I looked at a map, Vancouver was just a little black dot on the western edge of the world. Little did I know that Vancouver was going to be a place I would one day call home.

I have always been a dreamer. After I lost a cousin to cancer when I was in high school, my dream was to find a cure for this disease. I studied hard and was accepted as a student in the Faculty of Medicine. Upon my entry, I spent the next few years devoted to becoming an oncologist. But as every other Syrian, life had other plans for me.

Life had other plans for me

Inspired by the peaceful, nationwide protests of the Arab Spring, I marched in the streets against Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Revolution was violently suppressed by the Assad regime. In August 2013, I was arrested and jailed for 120 days under relentless torture because I had been vocal about human rights documenting the dictatorship’s violations on social media.

Leaving family behind

When I was finally released a few days before New Year’s Eve, 2014, I had come to accept that dealing with the unknown was better than fearing for my safety every day. Leaving my family behind, I escaped to neighboring Lebanon where I lived under deplorable circumstances and survived on $20 a day washing cars. I had lost all hope until my life changed with one phone call.

The phone call that changed my life

With help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, I was offered a new start in Canada as one of the first of 28 Syrian refugees to be resettled in British Columbia. In November, 2014 I arrived at YVR.

Since then, I have been building a new life in Metro Vancouver while advocating for the Syrian cause by sharing details of my experience. I started advocating for refugees as a public speaker (I’ve spoken at over 20 events at local churches and schools), helping to raise awareness at public events and discussion panels in my new community. I have also been campaigning to bring my mother, brother and two sisters to safety in Canada and have successfully raised the funds to initiate the process. Currently, I am professionally assisting newly arrived refugees to settle in Metro Vancouver as a Resettlement Assistance Program Counsellor with ISSofBC.

Coming to Canada was the best thing that happened to me

As a dreamer, there was nothing better than coming to a country where dreams come true. Canada has offered me something priceless: a place to call home and an opportunity for a future that I thought I had lost when I fled Syria.

Although a great opportunity, moving to a new country is not easy. Especially for a refugee who did not have a choice and left suddenly with only the clothes on his back. Arrival in Canada is not necessarily a fairy tale story with a happy ending. There are many challenges along the way that refugees face before and after getting to Canada, including missing family and being worried, language barriers and finding work. Going through the experience myself, I am familiar with the challenges associated with resettling, both personally and professionally.

In following blog posts I will share my story with you as it spans my journey in Syria and to Lebanon, and finally to Canada. I will also discuss the many challenges that refugees face before and after they embark on new lives in Canada in the hopes that it will also inspire others to help people like me when they arrive.

To continue following Mohammed’s story – read Part 2.

Mohammed will also be speaking at 2018 TEDx Stanley Park. For more information or tickets to the event click here.

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