British Columbia

Syrian refugees in B.C. distraught as Aleppo under attack

Newly arrived Syrian refugees say they're hearing frightening news from the family they left behind in Aleppo. Viken Majarian says a rocket destroyed a building 50 metres from his brother's home.

Newly arrived refugee says a rocket narrowly missed his brother's house Sunday

Viken Majarian says his brother took this photo of a rocket strike next to his home in Aleppo Sunday night. CBC has not verified this image.

Viken Majarian and Alin Arekelian had been looking forward to their first Valentine's Day since arriving as Syrian refugees in Canada. 

But it was impossible to celebrate over the weekend, as they received frightening news from family in Aleppo. 

"We tried to make that occasion, Valentine's [Day]. I bring a rose to my wife, but inside you are not feeling that happiness," Majarian said. ​

"Our mind is there — what is going on there." 

Viken Majarian and his eight-year-old son Haig arrived in B.C. on December 21, 2015. (CBC News)

Residents of Aleppo are caught in the middle of fierce fighting, as Russian-backed government troops intensify their push to retake Syria's largest city from rebel forces. 

The United Nations says 50 civilians were killed on Monday, after missiles struck at least three hospitals and a school in northern Syria.

Majarian says a rocket struck a building 50 metres from his brother's house in Aleppo, as the family — including an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl — slept Sunday night. 

"When I speak with him, he was telling me that they are at home and shaking," says Majarian, who arrived in B.C. late last year with his wife and two young children, sponsored by an Armenian church in Richmond.

The continued assaults on Aleppo have set off another wave of refugees. 

Many are desperate to get into neighbouring Turkey, but the Turkish government has closed the border

'Guilt at having left'

Margot Sangster, a settlement crisis support worker at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., has been speaking with Syrian refugees about the violence in their home country. 

"It's very difficult for them," she said. 

Turkish officials say 35,000 Syrian refugees have massed on the Syrian/Turkish border after fleeing Russian airstrikes and an offensive by regime forces surrounding the city of Aleppo. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

"They feel powerless of course when they're here in Canada. They may feel some guilt at having left and having left family members behind."

Majarian says he does feel guilty when he speaks to his family that remains in Syria. 

"Yes and no. Yes, because I left them there. No, because I saved my family." 

It's particularly difficult knowing he's not there to care for his elderly parents, who have now been without electricity for five months and haven't had running water for a month. 

"When I spoke with my mother, she was telling me, 'Are you thinking to come back to Syria?'" he said. 

"I say, 'Mom, how can I come back to that situation?'"


Catherine Rolfsen

'Finding Refuge' story producer

Catherine Rolfsen is a story producer with The Early Edition at CBC Radio Vancouver, currently following stories of Syrian refugees in B.C. Catherine's work has been recognized with regional and national awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Reach her at or @crolfsen