By Greg Nikkel
The third Syrian refugee family to be hosted in Weyburn through the Weyburn Syrian Refugee Committee ended weeks of waiting by landing in Canada over the Christmas weekend, and finally being settled into their new home on Dec. 27.
The Kabbabe family includes father Salim, originally from the city of Aleppo, Syria, his wife Regina, who is originally from the eastern Ukraine, and their twin 12-year-old sons Mike and Alex, had a couple of days to rest from their long flight from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, before refugee committee member Don Horner brought them to their new home.
The family was excited to see the snow when they arrived in Regina, after living in the desert environment of the United Arab Emirates, but when asked how they enjoyed it, Regina smiled and said, “It’s white, very white.”
“The kids were really excited about seeing the snow. but now there’s enough there for the rest of their lives,” quipped Don Horner, as the family was met by his wife Diane and committee member Doug Loden at their new home.
The family joins the Warda family and the Handal family, who both arrived a couple months ago after weeks of uncertainty when the Weyburn committee had no real idea when their refugees would be allowed to come here.
While the first two families are immersed in English language classes at Southeast College, the Kabbabes are fully fluent in English, with Salim also able to speak Arabic, and Regina and her sons can also speak Russian.
Salim noted while they were living in Dubai and awaiting word when they could leave for Canada, he kept up to date on what the Weyburn refugee committee was doing through email, and through the Weyburn Review website, reading the stories and photos posted about the previous families who arrived, the fundraisers and donations from the community, and about the struggles the committee was having getting them here.
The committee had written letters to the federal government and immigration officials, and Salim said the embassy people in Dubai knew all about them because of those letters, although the only time they had anything to do with the embassy was to be interviewed as part of the immigration process.
Due to the work on their behalf here in Canada, he added, they were in far better shape for immigrating than many others who are languishing in the Middle East waiting to go to new homes.
“Nobody had what we had,” said Salim. “For us, it was different. We knew we were coming here. Even when we were calling to the embassy, it was the same. They knew all about us.”
While they were uncertain for a long time about when they were coming, the family was happy they were finally able to make the trip.
“It did end up that we were here for Christmas, which was a perfect gift for us,” said Salim.
Explaining what life used to be like in Aleppo, and in Abu Dhabi, Salim noted he worked for a company who did packaging, then he ran his own business doing packaging and marketing, and for a time Regina worked with him as they met in Dubai and were married. Salim travelled throughout the Middle East on behalf of his company, “so I have a lot of contacts all over the world.”
In Syria, when Salim was a younger man, there was a requirement to serve in the country’s military, or else they could pay the government $5,000 and leave the country for two and a half years.
“The military there is not like here. It’s like two years of your life is frozen. There was no war then,” he said, adding when his sons were eight, “all this trouble in Syria started.”
While today, Aleppo has been all but completely leveled, it used to be a very good city to live in, even as a Christian in a largely Muslim city. “In my time, Aleppo was the safest city, and was the most cosmopolitan city. We never had any problem of any sort or any infighting between each other,” said Salim.
“We lived in a close community, a Christian community. I am Roman Catholic, but it didn’t matter, we went to all the churches, Catholic or Orthodox. … We lived in a small section of Aleppo, so we didn’t get affected by the unrest. When it started, it was in the Muslim area,” added Salim, noting for the first while, most of the damage was on the outlying parts of the city. He added he was thankful that his boys grew up in Dubai, and didn’t experience the war.
In the Middle East, where they were living, they had to apply for residency every year, so nothing was very certain while they lived in Dubai. “At any given time, you might be deported,” said Salim.
Regina said they are happy to be able to come to a peaceful country like Canada.
“We just hope Canada will be our home. This is for our kids. In both of our countries there is war,” added Regina.
The boys, who were in Grade 8 in the school system they were part of before, said they enjoy sports like soccer and basketball.
By Greg Nikkel