British Columbia·New

Young Syrian refugee family settling into Oliver, B.C.

Mohammad Al Lwisi and his young family are adjusting to a whole new life in the South Okanagan community of Oliver, B.C. after spending three years in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Al Lwisi family fled civil war in Syria in 2012.

Syrian refugees Mohammad Al Lwisi, left, his wife Nesreen Nemeh, their son Yazan, 7, and daughters Ghazal, 4, and Manessa (Brady Strachan, cbc news)

Mohammad Al Lwisi and his young family are adjusting to a new life in the South Okanagan community of Oliver, B.C. after spending three years in a refugee camp in Lebanon. 

In the autumn of 2012, Al Lwisi and his family fled Damascus, Syria after his brother disappeared.

Through translator Ayman Kanaan, Al Lwisi says he doesn't know if his brother was taken by the Syrian Army or rebels involved in the country's civil war.

"The war escalated and the fighting between the two sides had gotten worse and worse," Kanaan said.  "They finally decided that they had to leave for safety."

Life in a refugee camp

The family spent the next three years in Lebanon in a refugee camp.

Syrians could not work and were forced to renew residency status, which cost the family the equivalent of $1,500 US every six months, according to Al Lwisi.

Al Lwisi's oldest son Yazan, 7, was not allowed to attend elementary school in Lebanon.

"It was a big disaster. Extremely difficult," he said.

In June 2014, officials with the United Nations told the family they could choose from three countries; the United States, Australia, and Canada. The Al Lwisis chose Canada.

"When I was working at a hotel in Syria, I met so many people from Canada," he said. "They are good people."

In November, officials told the family to get ready to fly to Canada in two weeks.

"It was like a dream," Al Lwisi said through the translator.

Not everything was joyous, however. The family had to leave Lebanon without Mohammad's mother, brother and sister, who are still in the refugee camp.

The three relatives are meeting with Canadian officials this week to find out if, they too, will be allowed to seek refuge in Canada, according to Al Lwisi.

Warm welcome to Oliver

On December 7th, the Al Lwisis were among the first wave of Syrian refugees to arrive in B.C.

After a stopover in Vancouver, the family arrived at Penticton Regional Airport, where they were greeted by about 30 people from the Oliver Syrian Refugee Support Committee, who initiated a blended sponsorship with the federal government.

Now the Al Lwisis are living in a furnished, two-story house in Oliver provided by the refugee committee. 

"We are so happy for that. It's a nice place," said Al Lwisi. "All the people here are so friendly. Everything is very good here. It's fantastic."

El Lwisi and his wife Nesreen Nemeh are taking English lessons. Their oldest son Yazan will attend elementary school next month.

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