First Syrian refugee family arrives in Cowichan Valley

Faten, her mother Aisha, and Faten’s nine-year-old son, Mohammad arrived safe in the Cowichan Valley

“I feel safe and love.”

That’s what Faten, a 29-year-old refugee from the conflicts in Syria told Tammy Klassen on Monday as she and her family travelled from the Victoria International Airport to their new home in the Cowichan Valley.

Faten, her mother Aisha, and Faten’s nine-year-old son, Mohammad arrived safe in the Cowichan Valley, where they are being sponsored by the Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship, the first of a number of refugees heading to the Valley.

“They were scared when they first arrived,” Klassen said. “But I think they felt very welcome and safe.”

Faten, Klassen said, lost her husband to a heart attack four years ago, and Aisha’s husband was killed in bombings earlier in the war.

The Sunni Muslim family speaks Arabic, and only Faten speaks any English. The representatives of the church who greeted them at the airport did have an interpreter, but even then, the conversation was brief.

“[They didn’t say] a ton, other than it was a really long day of travelling,” said Klassen, who noted that it took a 29-hour journey to reach Vancouver Island.

After escaping Syria, the family had been “in limbo” in Lebanon for two and a half years, but Klassen hasn’t been able to determine if they were in a house or a refugee camp.

As part of the process for getting to their new home, they did go through screening by the Canadian government.

“They said they didn’t choose Canada,” Klassen elaborated. “Some international immigration organization helped them and told them they were going to Canada. They didn’t choose Canada, but they are very happy to be here.”

The weather on Vancouver Island, or at least the temperature, is similar to that of Lebanon, they told Klassen. Lebanon is famous for its cedar trees, which are pictured on the country’s flag and, as Klassen pointed out, mentioned in the Bible.

Lebanon may have been safer than Syria, but still wasn’t completely removed from conflict. “Even spending two and a half years in Lebanon, they were in Beirut, and there were bombings there, so they certainly weren’t feeling safe,” Klassen said.

For now, the family is staying at a home in Cowichan Bay, but the church sponsors are hoping to get them into permanent lodging later this week and help them get settled in other ways.

“They are anxious to learn more English,” Klassen said.

The Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship has been holding fundraisers to help with the sponsorship of the family, and they will continue to do so. The next event is one of the Cowichan Camerata String Orchestra’s Christmas concerts. All admission donations collected at the Camerata’s concert at Sylvan United Church in Mill Bay at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday will go toward helping the family get settled.