Starting over: One Syrian refugee family's story, in their own words

More than 25,000 Syrian refugees are starting over in Canada. CBC has been getting to know members of the Al Meslamani family as they begin their new lives in Winnipeg.

'Any moment a rocket could fall on your home or kids,' says Esmaeel Al Meslamani

Esmaeel Al Meslamani with his seven-year-old daughter Duaa. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

More than 25,000 Syrian refugees are starting over in Canada. CBC has been getting to know members of the Al Meslamani family as they begin their new lives in Winnipeg.

Esmaeel Al Meslamani never imagined he would be forced to leave his home in Elmah, Syria.

He was born and raised in the small village.

But everything changed when war arrived at his front door.

"You can't imagine," Al Meslamani said through an interpreter. "Suddenly things changed."

A rocket landed very close to his family's home in 2013.

Al Meslamani said it was a miracle that he, his wife and children survived.

Starting over - Leaving Syria

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
Esmaeel Al Meslamani shares his family's dramatic escape from Syria. 1:51

Leaving it all behind

The day after bombs fell on his neighbourhood, the Al Meslamani family left Syria, knowing they might never return.

It's hard to imagine having to start your entire life over, leaving your home on a moment's notice. What would you take with you?

One fears the unknown.- Esmaeel Al Meslamani

Al Meslamani didn't know what to expect when he arrived in Winnipeg on Jan.10.

"Of course, any new place is unknown to you and you fear it," Al Meslamani said.

"One fears the unknown."

But even at –24 C, it was a warm welcome.

Al Meslamani's sister-in-law and her family had come to Winnipeg 10 days earlier and were waiting for them at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

"It was a big happiness that could not be described," he said.
The family in their temporary apartment at Winnipeg's Welcome Place: (l-r) Esmaeel Al Meslamani's wife, Hend Al Hariri, 15-year-old Abdullah, 18-year-old Bayan, Esmaeel and 16-year-old Mohammad. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

From the airport, the family's first stop was the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, also known as Welcome Place, which provides temporary housing for government-assisted refugees.

Here the process of getting settled begins. Newcomers get help opening bank accounts, getting health cards, taking the bus and going shopping. The ball starts rolling on obtaining language training and preparing children for school.

And Welcome Place helps refugees cross one of the biggest hurdles of starting over — finding a new place to live.

Starting over - A new home

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
A Syrian refugee family's search for a new home in Winnipeg. 1:37

Learning the language

Another challenge facing many refugees is language.

Everyone is my friend.- Duaa Al Meslamani, 7

Al Meslamani and his wife, Hend Al Hariri, are taking classes five days a week for the next three months to learn English.

Al Meslamani writes down new words every day and memorizes them.

"I add them to my private dictionary," he said.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammad, 15-year-old Abdullah and seven-year-old Duaa started public school about a month after their arrival.

Duaa couldn't speak any English when she walked into her Grade 2 classroom in Winnipeg, but she still had a good first day.

"Everyone is my friend," Duaa said through an interpreter.

Before they go to public school, many refugee youth attend orientation classes.

Starting over - Learning the language

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
Inside the first classroom for some newly arrived Syrian refugee youth in Canada. 1:16

Getting to know the community

Along with language, there's much to learn.

Looking ahead

Al Meslamani said he wants to find a job "in a big way."

He was a mechanical engineer in Syria but is ready to do any type of work.

How does the 47-year-old imagine the future?
The Al Meslamani family outside their new home in Winnipeg. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

"I want my family to learn English very well, which will help them succeed," he said.

Al Meslamani also said it's important to him that his children become active participants in society.

He described Canada as a country of law, freedom and science.

The people here, he said, are very nice and helpful.

"As long as you want to be a good citizen and want to interact, you find that in Canada," he said.