British Columbia

'It's a joy': First Syrian refugees in northern B.C. celebrate citizenship

A Middle Eastern family who were the first Syrian refugees to arrive northern B.C. will be granted Canadian citizenship Thursday in Prince George.

Prince George couple become Canadian 7 years after fleeing civil war in Syria

The Tohme family came to northern British Columbia from Latakia, Syria. (Rose Tohme/Contributed)

The first Syrian refugees to arrive in northern British Columbia will be granted citizenship Thursday at a ceremony in Prince George.

"It's a joy," said Rose Tohme, her voice wavering with emotion.  

Tohme, her husband, Nael, and their four children fled Latakia, Syria — a port city on the Mediterranean — in 2012 during a brutal civil war. 

"We didn't have any idea where we were going to be. We were just living day by day," said Tohme.

The family made their way to a temporary haven in Lebanon and were later sponsored by a church in northern B.C. 

The first Syrian refugees to arrive in northern British Columbia, in January, 2016, stepped off the airplane to a warm welcome from local people, the Prince George mayor, and their church sponsors at Westwood Church. (Prince George Airport/Contributed )

On January 8, 2016, the Tohme family flew in to Prince George and climbed down the stairs of a small plane.

It was the middle of the night and bitterly cold.

Warm welcome

But the Tohmes were greeted at the airport by a large group of locals with welcome signs and flowers. The group included Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, the family's church sponsors, and smiling strangers.

A year after arriving in Prince George, Rose Tohme holds up her kitten, TJ, named after the cat her family had to leave behind in the Middle East. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"We were overwhelmed," said Tohme. "It was a miracle for us."

'A miracle'

Now, three and a half years later, and settled in to their life in Prince George, Tohme and her husband are becoming Canadian citizens.

Nael Tohme, who was a civil engineer assistant in Syria, found work at a company that does hydraulic machine repair, and Rose, a former teacher, is an education assistant at a local high school, working with Syrian students. Their four kids are now grown.

Rose Tohme aced her citizenship test with a perfect score.

Dressed in red and white, Rose and Nael Tohme celebrated their first Canada Day. (Rose Tohme/Contributed)

She said she enjoyed preparing for the test by studying up on Canada's geography, politics, and history.

"Canada is the land of beauty and the land of immigrants," she said. "This is what I read in the books I studied for my citizenship."

After leaving war torn Syria, the Tohme family first found refuge in Lebanon. (Rose Tohme/Contributed )


About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous national and provincial journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the national network Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based out of Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry. She also covered the 2010 Paralympics for national radio news.