Syrian refugee in Edmonton watching Aleppo crisis from afar

When Aref Sayegh was studying in his home city of Aleppo a few years ago, he, along with many others described the city as “the jewel of Syria.”

Aref Sayegh fears for friends and relatives in Aleppo, once called 'the jewel of Syria'

Aref Sayegh, right, said he's grateful to be in Canada, but it pains him to see his home city of Aleppo under siege while he's a continent away. (Richard Siemens/University of Alberta)

When Aref Sayegh was studying in his home city of Aleppo a few years ago, he understood why the city was described as "the jewel of Syria."

"Before the war, it was like, so lovely," he told the CBC's Radio Active. "You can see the people happy almost all the time."

Sayegh now lives in Edmonton, after fleeing the war through Lebanon, but he watches the news from Aleppo closely as he still has friends and relatives there.

Sayegh works at the University of Alberta as a researcher where he is bringing his first-hand experience to study how Canada can improve the process of bringing in Syrian refugees.

His life in Aleppo was great until 2011 when the violence began, he said.

"It started in the university, where some people did some violence."

He and his family eventually relocated to the neighbouring Lebanon, but he still has many friends and other family members that live in the city.

The situation in Aleppo has escalated as the Syrian government makes a push to oust the rebels in the eastern part of the city.

Government forces are clearing some wounded and sick people out of Aleppo, though it's unclear how many are being moved out.

"It's good news to hear that that they had a deal to evacuate the people," Sayegh said.

But the push also means more bloodshed — something Sayegh struggles with, being a continent away.

'We cannot do anything'

Sayegh said seeing the daily reports of people dying hurt because he is unable to help.

"Each day you hear bad news, like someone died," he said. "It's hard for us to hear this news because we are away, we cannot do anything."

But Sayegh said he's grateful to be in Canada and for the support he and other Syrian refugees have been given.

"The people here already did something great by bringing hundreds of families here," he said.

When asked what more can be done, he said businesses providing support and jobs, as well as universities offering scholarships can make a difference for some Syrians.

"The situation isn't getting better," he said. "Lots of people want to get out and get here."

Aref, right, seen with his brother Bassel. Both of them live in Edmonton now and hope to bring their parents over by the new year. (Facebook)

As for his family, his twin brother is also in Edmonton and a second brother just arrived here three days ago.

Sayegh is hoping to bring his parents over from Lebanon by the end of the year. He said if everything goes as planned, his family will all be in the same city for the first time in two years.

"It's a blessing for us," he said. "Now we will be under one roof in the same house."