A new life in Edmonton: the successes and challenges faced by Syrian refugees
Close to 6,300 Syrian refugees moved to Alberta since November 2015
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.