Syrian family struggling to reconcile good fortune in Winnipeg with barrage of bad news from home

A young family from Syria is grateful to have found safety and freedom in Canada, but they’re still plagued daily by the fear and grief of what’s happening back home.

Magda and Muhamd Asliman feel powerless to help those they left behind

Magda (left) and Muhamd Asliman say they're grateful to be in Winnipeg with their children, but feel powerless to help those they left back home in Syria. In front of their 4-year-old son Ahmed, Magda holds a photo of Muhamd's brother Fahdi, who died. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

A young family from Syria is grateful to have found safety and freedom in Canada, but they're still plagued by fear and grief over what's happening back home.

"Everyday have bad news for my country. Brother dead. Cousin dead. Every day. Sometimes I am scared [of] my phone," said Muhamd Asliman, a father of four. He and his family came to Canada from a refugee camp in Jordan a year and a half ago.

Last week, Muhamd learned that his younger brother had been killed by a bomb from a plane flying over Damascus.

Muhamd says his brother was working as a truck driver to support his wife and four young children.

"And after that the plane everywhere have bomb. And friends call family your brother dead. Now I don't know how can … it's my brother dead. He have four kids. Don't have anything now for them. Need for rent. Need for eat. It's everything difficult," he said. 

Muhamd and his wife Magda have come a long way since escaping the same war four years ago. They arrived to Canada with only the clothes they were wearing and unable to speak any English.

Eighteen months later, they have made a home in a two-bedroom apartment in the Lavalee neighbourhood near St. Vital.

'Everything in Canada is very, very good'

Their six-year-old triplets are beginning Grade 1 while their youngest, who's four, has autism and sees a therapist once a week. Their former home, in the now decimated, ancient town of Palmyra, was bombed by ISIS in 2013. Both have lost other siblings to bombs or Assad's army.

They fled to the refugee camp in Jordan and spent three years there before being sponsored to Canada by the Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project.

Here, they have been reunited with Muhamad's brother Ahmed and Magda's sister Mariam, also married. Once a week the families join together for dinners and the children play together. They speak English with ease, and have no memory of the war.

"They talk English, It's very very fast," said Magda Asliman. "Talking English and happy with school and summer. Everything here in Canada is very, very good. And for kids, for me, for my family, it's different," she said.

But their good fortune is a harsh contrast to their family's terror back home.

They are desperate to help Fahdi's widow, who has no one else in Damascus to support her or her children. But they don't have the money, surviving on just income assistance. 

While attending his English language classes, Muhamd has applied for jobs as a mechanic, but so far hasn't had any luck.

The Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project is still supporting the families. "I am very happy and my wife happy," said Muhamd.

"But everybody needs help. I know the government here very, very help Syrian people. I like it," he said.

"But now I don't know how I can help my brother's family. Don't have anyone help him," he said, with tears in his eyes.

Magda says she dreams of having all her family here in Canada. But it would appear that dream is at the mercy of a relentless war, or the one-in-a-million chance to flee.

A young family from Syria is grateful to have found safety and freedom in Canada, but they're still plagued by fear and grief over what's happening back home. 1:02