A new life in Edmonton: the successes and challenges faced by Syrian refugees

As Syrian refugees in Edmonton have spent the last couple of years in their new home, some have become independent while others still face challenges.

Close to 6,300 Syrian refugees moved to Alberta since November 2015

'We have to do the hard work to improve ourselves'


3 years ago
2,585 Syrian refugees have moved to Edmonton since late 2015. Some have found financial independence, while others still face challenges. 1:38

​Mohamad Moslli smiles as he installs a new case on a cell phone in his downtown Edmonton storefront, nearly eight years after his previous shop and home were destroyed in the Syrian war.

Moslli​ and a partner opened the electronic repair shop on Jasper Avenue more than a year ago and, he says, business is good. 

Moslli​, 34, is one of 2,585 Syrian refugees who moved to Edmonton since the end of 2015. 

While many of the refugees still experience challenges and depend on government assistance, some, like Moslli​, are now financially independent.

'A big change in our life'

The store represents stability and resiliency for him, his wife Jamilah Kanakree and their children Yara, 9, and Yazan,12, he says.

Since moving to Edmonton nearly three years ago, they've bought a vehicle and a house.

Kanakree has enrolled in an accounting program.

"Those years were the most beautiful three years that we spent in our life," Kanakree said of their time so far in Canada. "It is a big change in our life." 
Mohamad Moslli, 34, puts a new protective case on a cell phone for a customer at Xtratech, a computer and phone repair business he co-owns. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Prior to 2013, the family lived in Duma, Syria, where their home and business were destroyed in a civil war that continues today. They moved to Damascus, the country's capital city.

Nine months later, after watching a bomb demolish the city's central bank, Moslli​ led his family to Jordan where they lived as refugees.

Moslli eventually opened a repair shop in Jordan, but the operation was short-lived. He soon received notice that the family been granted leave to enter Canada.

The family had 20 days to get ready, so they sold what they had in a rush, excited to start over again.

After a warm welcome, they feel confident about their future in Canada.

"People here in Edmonton were so welcoming," said Kanakree. "They helped us with everything that we need.

"Because we are here we feel hope. Hope in the future, and a better one. We see that in Canada. It's providing big opportunities for us."

Entrepreneurial challenges for others

While many refugees are enjoying life in Canada, putting roots down in a different country comes with new challenges.

In August 2016, CBC News spoke with Najim Al-tameemi, a Syrian refugee, about his business plan to sell local honey to growing communities from Iraq and Syria.

  • Sweet business proposal for refugee with eyes on the honey market

Two years later, his plan has changed. He's run into more challenges than he expected.

He's working on patenting a honey vinegar product, which he says is good for health and wellness.

But marketing the product and getting it approved for sale has been a challenge.

He hasn't found a full-time job but receives provincial government assistance to help support his large family.

He's a skilled Arabic calligraphy artist. He's taught it in a few classes but there isn't a high demand and it hasn't translated into income.

Despite the hurdles, Al-tameemi says he will resist the urge to give up on his entrepreneurial dream.

"One day I will be selling honey vinegar to all of Canada," he said.
Najim Al-tameemi took this picture while working in Agri-Food Discovery Place to learn how to develop his honey vinegar product. (Najim Al-tameemi )

His son, Abdullah Al-tameemi, 25, has found full-time work managing Babylon Restaurant, which specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Business has been slow but he's hoping to turn things around so he can focus on his goal of becoming a mechanical engineer.

"I want a better life for my family, Abdullah Al-tameemi said. "That's a big goal for me."

Abdullah Al-tameemi and his father Najim Al-tameemi pose in Babylon Restaurant where Abdullah works as a manager. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The Al-tameemi family has fled violence in two countries. In 2007, they left their home country of Iraq and moved to Syria before immigrating to Canada three years ago.

Abdullah said the family lived in more than 25 homes to survive the civil war that continued to move. Buying a home in Edmonton with his family is an important goal.

Refugees on the move

From November 2015 to June 30, 2018, 2,585 Syrian refugees moved to Edmonton. A total of 6,370 Syrian refugees moved to Alberta.

Of those living in Edmonton, 1,465 were government-assisted, 915 were privately sponsored and 205 relied on a blended sponsorship.

After a year of settlement in Canada, federal assistance ends and refugees can apply for provincial supports if needed.

The Edmonton Mennonite Centre For Newcomers has been helping refugees who've struggled to find employment after their first year in the city.

"The hope is that it's not so much a wake-up call as a smooth transition into Canadian life," said Erick Ambtman, executive director of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre For Newcomers. "For some though that's obviously not an option if there's still a need to learn the language."

A common issue he sees is refugees having difficulty balancing English classes while working or searching for employment.

He says some Syrian refugees who have established independence in the city have already started to contribute to the community.

"Refugees are often so grateful," Ambtman said. "They're always looking forward to contributing to the community that has welcomed them, from starting brand-new pavilions at the Heritage Festival to volunteering at homeless shelters. [They're] trying to give back to the community that has really given them a life."

Jamilah Kanakree and Mohamad Moslli smile at each other as they talk about their plans to eventually sponsor Kanakree's family in Edmonton. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

As for Moslli, he plans to turn Xtratech into a franchise with three more locations. His extended family lives in Edmonton, but he wants to eventually sponsor his wife Kanakree's family to offer them the same opportunities to build a life in Edmonton.




Travis McEwan


Travis McEwan is a video journalist who has not won any awards. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca