British Columbia

'We are trying to balance both cultures': 3 years on, refugee family from Syria applies for citizenship

Three years ago this week, Vicken Majarian and Alin Arekelian arrived with their two young children in Vancouver as refugees from Syria.

Armenian-Syrian family are settled and happy in B.C., but the move hasn’t been easy

The Armenian-Syrian family arrived in Canada three years ago, which means they can now apply for citizenship. (Submitted by Vicken Majarian)

Three years ago this week, Vicken Majarian and Alin Arekelian arrived with their two young children in Vancouver as refugees from war-torn Syria.

The family's third anniversary of their arrival means they're now eligible for Canadian citizenship, which they are preparing to apply for.

"It will take time, the process is a long process but I am starting to feel Canadian," Arekelian said.

"As far as my kids, they are almost settled. Now they are saying, 'Mom, we are very happy here — we have our friends, we have our community, we have our life here.'"

'The first time we went to the park, we were so excited'

Eleven-year-old Haig remembers being nervous on his first day of school but quickly picked up both a group of friends and a new language.

"When I first went to school, I was shaking," he said.

"I started moving on by getting some friends helping me, I learnt English. Now I'm in Grade 6 and I have lots of friends."

His sister Karni, 7, also quickly settled in and made friends. Both children agree that the playgrounds and parks are one of their favourite things about Vancouver.

"In Syria, the parks — there was just war so there were all trees on the ground and we couldn't play," Haig said.

"When we came here, the first time we went to the park, we were so excited."

Haik, 11, and Karni, 7, regularly attend classes to learn about Armenian history, culture, music. They had an end-of-year Christmas party this week. (Submitted by Vicken Majarian)

'Really tough years'

As the family moves toward Canadian citizenship, Arekelian and Majarian are making sure their children don't lose touch with their roots.

Every week, Haig and Karni attend Armenian school at the church to study the language, history and culture.

"Before, we were Syrian-Armenian. Now, we are Canadian-Armenian, so we are trying to balance both cultures,"  she told CBC The Early Edition'sClaudia Goodine.

Three years ago this week, Vicken Majarian and Alin Arekelian arrived with their two young children in Vancouver as refugees from Syria. 7:41

Arekelian said finding their footing in a new country hasn't been without challenges.

"It was really tough years, to be honest," she said.

"But having the community and the church beside us — they helped us a lot to at least support us emotionally and to always be with us whenever we had any questions."

The family was privately sponsored to come to Canada through the Armenian Relief Society and St. Gregory Church in Richmond, B.C.

'No one can feel what we are feeling because we came from the war. To be safe is the most important thing,' says Vicken Majarian, pictured with daughter Karni. (Submitted by Vicken Majarian)

Housing and job challenges

Finding housing and employment were two of the most difficult parts of being a newcomer. The family currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment, with the two children sleeping on couches in the living room.

Arekelian had been a civil engineer in Syria and her husband owned a dental surgery clinic for two decades, but both struggled to find work in their fields after the move because of a lack of Canadian work experience.

Arekelian is now employed as a settlement worker with another refugee-support organization and is planning to further her studies in education assistance.

Majarian has worked a number of different jobs but hopes to stay in the medical field.

"I have a respect for other jobs as a driver [or in] construction, but I know that I can give more," he said.

Ultimately, the family said, they are happy to have made a home in Vancouver.

"No one can feel what we are feeling because we came from the war," Majarian said.

"To be safe is the most important thing."

With files from Claudia Goodine and The Early Edition