New Brunswick

Syrian family finds refuge in Saint John

Three years after Syria's civil war forced Grace Samaan to go on the run with her family, she has found safe harbour in New Brunswick, where three of her five children are going to school and one dreams of being a doctor.

Grace Samaan and her children are now living in Saint John after fleeing Syria

RAW: Milia Aidemouni on leaving Syria

6 years ago
5:16
Milia Aidemouni talks about her new life in Saint john after escaping war-torn Syria. 5:16

Three years after Syria's civil war forced Grace Samaan to go on the run with her family, she has found safe harbour in New Brunswick, where three of her five children are going to school and one dreams of being a doctor.

"Now we are OK," she says in her north end Saint John apartment, which is partly furnished thanks to donations from the YMCA.

The Samaans arrived in Saint John back in February. They are government-sponsored refugees.

They made application in Lebanon, after spending months running from village to village, seeking peace and shelter.

This is one of the last photos taken in Grace Samaan's house in Syria. It shows the extent of the destruction, including bedrooms buried in dust and rubble and a half-collapsed kitchen. (Submitted by Grace Samaan)
The last photos taken of their house show the extent of the destruction, including bedrooms buried in dust and rubble and a half-collapsed kitchen.

"I remember the suffering. The people are nothing in their country," says Samaan, who is sometimes overcome by emotion.

A sister loaned them money to get out of central Homs. 

In the months and years that followed, they took refuge in a convent, a borrowed house, a leaky apartment and for some time, they were financially supported by members of a Norwegian church. 

Sometimes strangers were kind and sometimes they showed disdain and contempt.

"I was in eleventh grade when I left my school," says Samaan's second-oldest child, Milia Aidemouni. 

The family fled their home in Homs and spent months seeking refuge in different places. (Submitted by Grace Samaan )
Now 20, Aidemouni has completed English as a second language courses in Saint John and starts part-time studies this week at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.

She also works part-time at a pharmacy on the city's east side. 

"I feel that it is a new life," she says, describing her dreams to become a family doctor and possibly a pediatrician.

"I know there will be many obstacles. But everything is better than the war."

Aidemouni said Canada is treating her family well. 

 "I have never thought of it, that we would be in such a place," she said. 

Aidemouni said her thoughts used to be pre-occupied with death and survival.

But now she said she can love life again. 

"I want to study. I want to build my future. I want to make all my dreams come true," she said.

The family maintains in contact with people back in Syria as well as families they met on their struggle to get from Homs to Beirut.  

Grace Samaan and her five children are now living in Saint John after getting out of Syria. (CBC)
They still have a letter from a cousin who says he failed to get a work visa for Germany and is desperate to get his daughter and wife to a country where they can live productive lives. 

"After we heard about the drowned kids and boats, I had no choice but to send my wife and Elian back to Syria even though the situation is horrible there," writes Wisam Hakim in a letter dated Sept. 9.

"Please I need help," he continues.  

"I am ready to provide you with any information or documents you need. Rescue us."

The Samaans also keep a copy of a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees letter from an Iraqi woman that also lists her two daughters and son.

Grace Samaan would like to see the family make it out of Lebanon.

The Samaans do have a television but they say, they don't have to watch the news to understand the endless suffering they managed to escape. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now