British Columbia

'We feel free': A Syrian refugee family's journey to a home in B.C.

When Syrian refugees Saja Aeash, 20, Shadi Alradi, 29 and their 14-month old daughter Zain Alsham, moved into an apartment in Coquitlam last month, it was the first stability they'd known since they fled Syria four years ago.

Saja Aeash and Shadi Alradi lived in a war zone, a refugee camp and a hotel before their Coquitlam apartment

Follow a Syrian refugee family on their quest for a home of their own

7 years ago
Duration 3:32
Saja Aeash and Shadi Alradi lived in a war zone, a refugee camp and a hotel before their Coquitlam apartment

When Syrian refugees Saja Aeash, 20, Shadi Alradi, 29 and their 14-month old daughter Zain Alsham, moved into an apartment in Coquitlam last month, it was the first stability they'd known since they fled Syria four years ago. 

Here's their account of their journey to a safe home and the places they've lived along the way. 

2011: Daraa, Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters flash victory signs in Daraa, Syria in 2011. The next year, Shadi Alradi and Saja Aeash fled the city. (Hussein Malla, The Associated Press)

Shadi: I lived in the province of Daraa, but most of my studies were in Damascus. My house in Daraa was my own. I had my own garden. [It] was close to my family and my friends. 

When I finished my studies in Damascus and went back to Daraa, there were a lot of bizarre and frightening events going on. It was becoming a daily occurrence that the military airplanes would drop explosive barrels which made no distinction between militants or children or women.

Death and destruction were everywhere. 

2012: Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan 

After fleeing Syria, Shadi Alradi and Saja Aeash ended up in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is home to nearly 80,000 people, according to the UN Refugee Agency. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)

Saja: It was a very difficult situation. There is no life in the camp. 

Shadi: There were no services at all, no infrastructure, no electricity, and you had to walk for several miles to get water. The sanitation situation was terrible. It was a very inhumane situation. 

The situation in the camps was terrible, so eventually we had to sneak out of there illegally. I got a place and I got a job and started paying my rent, but we [were] frightened with any moment to be arrested and deported back to Syria. 

Saja: [After Zain was born] It was a frightening feeling, because it was very troubled times filled with fear and worry for the future. 

2015: Sandman Inn, Downtown Vancouver

Shadi Alradi and his family spent more than three weeks living in a hotel in Downtown Vancouver, trying to find affordable housing in the Lower Mainland. (CBC News)

Saja: We definitely felt very happy to arrive [in Vancouver], but we also felt a bit nervous, because it's a new country that is very different from what we're used to. 

Shadi: [The hotel is] okay, fine. All things comfortable. The home is the main problem. All the people here [are] afraid about the home. How they seem. Is it bad or clean or big or small?

All the people here say the home is very expensive in Vancouver. 

2016: An apartment of their own in Coquitlam

Syrian refugees Shadi Alradi and Saja Aeash say their 14-month-old daughter Zain Alsham started walking the same day they moved into their own home in Coquitlam. (CBC News)

Shadi: We're very happy. We're really liking the feeling of security and stability. My first impression is that it's very silent and people are very helpful and very nice to me. 

Saja: We feel very happy to be here and we feel free. We feel freedom. And Zain is very happy with all the kids that are around here.

When she saw the other kids she got encouraged to walk [for the first time] from the first day that we moved here. 

As told to Catherine Rolfsen, with translation help from Barbar Moawad and Asser Hassan

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: A Syrian refugee family's journey to a home in B.C.


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