British Columbia

Kurdi refugee family thrives in Canada but struggles to find housing

The relatives of a boy whose lifeless image on a beach shocked the world into paying more attention to the Syrian refugee crisis are settling into their new Canadian home.

Heveen Kurdi, 16, hopes her family finds somewhere permanent to live soon

Tima Kurdi, right, plays with her nephew Sherwan Kurdi, 1, at her home in Coquitlam, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The relatives of a boy whose lifeless image on a beach shocked the world into paying more attention to the Syrian refugee crisis are settling into their new Canadian home.

The Kurdi family children have been quick to pick up English and speak of good friends they've made and plans they have for the future.

Their cousin, Alan Kurdi, was photographed lying face down on a Mediterranean beach after the small boy's family attempted what would turn out to be a deadly crossing from Turkey in early September last year.

The incident became a focal point of the refugee crisis and led to calls for Canada to do more, bringing the issue to the forefront of the federal election.

The new Liberal government committed to bringing in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, paving the way for the family's arrival to the greater Vancouver area in late December.

Tima Kurdi, back second left, sits for a photograph with her brother Mohammad Kurdi, second right, and his wife Ghouson Dakouri, back centre, and their children, Heveen, back left, 16, Ranim, front left, 10, Sherwan, 1, seated hiding his face, Rezan, 8, and Shergo, far right, 15, at her home in Coquitlam, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Nine months later and the Kurdi family still faces challenges, primarily with finding a stable place to live in a region notorious for expensive housing.

The family of seven lived originally with their aunt in Coquitlam, but they've been residing in a group home for Syrian refugees in downtown Vancouver since June.

Heveen Kurdi, 16, says she hopes the family will find somewhere permanent to live soon.

She says she looks forward to having some stability and building a life in Canada.

Alan's legacy

Shergo Kurdi, 15, lifts his shirt to reveal a pale, mottled patchwork of burn scars on his belly and chest — a legacy, he says, of years spent ironing fabric in a Turkish clothing factory after he and his family fled war-torn Syria in 2012.

Now, nine months after arriving in British Columbia with his parents and four siblings, the teenage refugee is preparing to enter Grade 10 and wants to one day become a police officer.

"I like ... to help people," Shergo said, explaining that he likes the idea of giving back.

Shergo and his siblings are cousins of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose lifeless body was photographed on the shores of a Mediterranean beach last September.

Tim Kurdi wears a photograph of her late nephews Alan, left, and Ghalib Kurdi on a necklace while standing for a photo at her home in Coquitlam, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Speaking in broken English at his aunt's home in Coquitlam, B.C., Shergo talked about how difficult his job was in Istanbul.

Shifts sometimes lasted as long as 24 hours, he said, and frequently he didn't get paid.

The teen used a metaphor to explain how his life has been affected by the move to British Columbia.

Tima Kurdi, left, who lives in the Vancouver area, lifts up her 5-month-old nephew Sherwan Kurdi after her brother Mohammad Kurdi and his family, who escaped the war in Syria, arrived at Vancouver International Airport last December. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"It's like a flower: [if] he doesn't have water he [will] die. Come to Canada, he has water and opens up again," he said.

Shergo's sister, 16-year-old Heveen, also spoke positively about her time in Canada, and of being reunited with her father, Mohammad Kurdi, who spent nine months in Germany trying to get his family out of Turkey and missed the birth of his youngest child.

"The whole family [is] together again," Heveen said, smiling.

10-year-old Ranim Kurdi seemed overcome with joy after arriving and waved a Canadian flag for reporters, chanting 'Thank you Canada!' (CBC)

She explained that after finishing grade school she wants to study dentistry at university.

She added that she'll provide free dental work for her family, which prompted her mother, Ghouson Dakouri, to grin and chime in with "Mom is first."

Still, Heveen said she thinks about her friends and family back in the Middle East every day.

Housing challenges remain

The challenges aren't over for the Kurdis, as they continue to grapple with finding permanent lodging and securing employment for Mohammad.

The family of seven initially lived with Tima Kurdi, Mohammad's sister, in Coquitlam.

But since June they've resided in a group home in downtown Vancouver alongside dozens of other Syrian refugees while they wait for a stable living arrangement to open up.

The Kurdis said the facility accommodates about 70 other people, mostly children, and that their living quarters consist of only two sleeping rooms.

Haveen Kurdi, 16, Mohammad's eldest daughter, says she is excited to be in Canada. (CBC)

Work is also a challenge.

Mohammad, who is a barber, said he must be available to inspect a possible home at a moment's notice, which makes it difficult to maintain regular, full-time working hours.

Heveen said she hopes they find somewhere permanent to live before September, so she won't have to risk moving schools and starting over yet again.

Seated on a couch in Tima's home with his family around him, Mohammad smiled as his youngest child, 13-month-old Sherwan Kurdi, dragged a toy dog through the living room.

Speaking through his sister, Mohammad said he feels happy and proud to see his kids like this, the trauma of their ordeal fading from memory.

"Seeing the kids, it's happy," said Tima. "He's happy."

Mohammad Kurdi thanked Canadians for making his dreams come true. (CBC)