Syrian refugees evacuated from Fort McMurray
Instead of 'missiles hunting them,' the wildfire’s embers rained down on them
Fleeing a massive wildfire can feel a lot like fleeing war.
"Like when the missiles come down and burned the whole neighbourhood," says Fort McMurray evacuee Abdul Almouazan, 66, through a translator.
Two years ago, Almouazan fled war-torn Syria with his family of eight. In February, they began their new life in Fort McMurray. Almouazan felt safe, "like a human being again."
Canada is like a mother for us with its tenderness and love.- Abdul Almouazan
But two months on, he is one of 140 evacuees finding shelter at Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton. Uprooted again, his smile is still frequent, but it triggers memories of the horrors in Syria.
Almouazan recalls bombs flattening homes, "people being killed all around him" and "pieces of people flying in the air."
Bombs often rained down around his daughter's house by the hospital, he says. One day she disappeared. He doesn't know if she's alive.
Her two children are now with Almouazan in Edmonton. So is his wife, his son, daughter-in-law, and their three children.
On the run again
But that changed Tuesday when, they escaped the smoke thickening around their beloved Timberlea home, heading to the local mosque.
Then the municipality issued a mandatory evacuation order. Suddenly, Almouazan and his family were on the run again.
It felt eerily familiar, he says, recalling moving from one shelter to the next in Syria. But rather than "missiles hunting them," the wildfire's embers rained down on them instead.
Compared to Syria's loud explosions, Almouazan found the fire hauntingly quiet. He's sitting cross legged in the cot where he'll later sleep. Colourful prayer beads jingle in his hand. He's had them ever since Syria because they're always in his pocket.
Now they're all he has. His family left home Tuesday without anything figuring they'd soon be back.
Making his way through the chaos and devastation of Syria and now Fort Mac, Almouazan has touched bead after bead, repeating the name of Allah.
Despite all the loss among the evacuees at Al Rashid, faith seems to be in abundance. Almouazan's smiling friend in the next cot says he also fled Syria with his young family four years back.
Another evacuee gets off the phone. Crestfallen, he tells the two men his home has burned down, adding he too was once a refugee from Somalia.
"Alhamdulillah," they say softly, which translates as "Praise be to Allah" — a phrase to be used in both good times and adversity.
On Thursday, mayor Melissa Blake spoke about Fort McMurray "as a community that welcomes refugees" now being refugees themselves.
"People are being so kind," said Blake, her voice thick with emotion. "They're willing to take us into their homes. And now I know what it feels like."
In contrast, some of those helping were once on the receiving end. The executive director of Al Rashid Mosque fled bombs as a child during the civil war in Lebanon. Later he immigrated to Canada for the safety of his own children.
"It makes you feel more what they are going through and how it feels when they leave their houses," said Omar Najmeddine. "Whether it's war or natural disaster, they are leaving their houses and everything they own."
"We opened our doors just to show people they are not in the middle of nowhere. Even if they left Fort McMurray, they still have a house somewhere else in this country."
As Almouazan waits for the day he can return to Fort McMurray to rebuild his life yet again, he expresses gratitude for the Canadians who have offered him and his family refuge not once, but twice.
"I feel like Canada is like a mother for us with its tenderness and love."
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