Syrian refugee children settle in Halifax for dialysis treatment at IWK

The latest Syrian refugee arrivals in Halifax are a family of six redirected here because two of their children need specialized medical treatment at the IWK Health Centre.

Family destined for Saint John but children's medical needs better served in Halifax

Sisters Zeyn and Viyana Ali require dialysis treatment. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Halifax's newest arrivals of Syrian refugees are a family of six redirected here because two of their children need specialized medical treatment at the IWK Health Centre.

The Ali family was supposed to settle in Saint John, N.B., under a sponsorship arrangement with Grand Bay Baptist Church.

But last week, church members learned the two oldest children, 13-year-old Viyana and her 10-year-old sister Zeyn, require pediatric dialysis three times a week.

Halifax church helped quickly

So the call for help went out around Halifax, and the Beechville Lakeside Timberlea refugee sponsorship group jumped to help.

"For what this family's endured and the arduous journey they had to make from Syria to Turkey, you know, we can't say no," said Ben John, one of the board members of the BLT group.

"We have two young children that [are] in dire need of medical assistance, so we had to make things happen and move things around."

The Ali family and a welcoming party at Halifax Stanfield Airport. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

'She's coming home'

John was among about 20 people who showed up Thursday at Halifax Stanfield Airport with balloons, toys and handwritten signs for the Alis. Also in the welcoming party was Mamdouh Hzim, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Halifax New Year's Day, and is also sponsored by the group.

They clapped and hugged Narin Haci Ali, Muhammed Besir Ali and their four children as they entered the arrivals area.

"She feels like she's coming to family," said Haci Ali through volunteer interpreter Hadeel Dalloul. 

"She's coming home."

Hope after difficult journey

Before civil war erupted, Haci Ali worked as a lawyer and her husband as an engineer in Qurbani, Syria.

As the conflict escalated, the family fled to Turkey in 2014. A year later, their home was flattened in an airstrike, she said.

"It got to the point where they lost hope and now [they're] feeling like that's all coming back again," Haci Ali said through the interpreter. "Raising their family in a safe community is just joyful."

Haci Ali said her priority is her children: three daughters and a son.

While in Turkey, the girls' medical conditions worsened, she said.

"First thing is to obviously get help for the girls, and get them feeling safe, and feeling better, of course — and then helping them learn English and feeling like they're actually home," she said.

Zach Logan, recent Syrian arrival Mamdouh Hzim and Sidney Schwartz were among the well wishers at Halifax Stanfield Airport. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Apartment ready to be home

And that's where they went — to an apartment in Fairview — after leaving the airport. Haci Ali said she was surprised and happy, fully expecting they'd be going to a hotel.

Making the family feel at home was top priority for the sponsorship group.

The day before the family arrived, volunteers set up a freshly painted three-bedroom apartment with new and gently used furniture, stocked the kitchen with food and dishes, and neatly arranged school supplies and toys on the children's beds.

While their parents broke out in song in the living room, the kids wasted no time claiming their beds and playing with their new toys.

Viyana Ali holds a letter from a new friend welcoming her to Halifax. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

'Hello and welcome to Nova Scotia'

Viyana found a handwritten letter.

With some help, she read it aloud as best she could. She's just started to learn English.

"Hello and welcome to Nova Scotia," starts the letter.

"Don't be nervous about moving here. We will do our best to support you. Sincerely, A friend."

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu

Reporter

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia and host of Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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