Nfld. & Labrador

Syrian family in Bishop's Falls anxious for daughter stuck in Aleppo

The Zalam family gained asylum in Bishop's Falls, N.L. last year, but they had to leave one of their daughters behind in Syria.

Rawya Zalam, 31, seeking approval to immigrate to Newfoundland and Labrador

Nowra Zalam holds a photo of her 7-week-old nephew, who lives in Aleppo. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Months after their arrival as refugees, a Syrian family in Newfoundland and Labrador is still on edge — for their daughter and newborn grandson left behind in Syria.

Rawya Zalam, 31, hasn't been able to leave Aleppo, her family says, even though her father and mother and two of her sisters have been living in Bishop's Falls for five months.

They arrived in Canada after spending five years in refugee camps in Turkey.

"My mom [is] very nervous, and my dad," said Nowra Zalam, Rawya's 23-year-old sister.

"[It's] very hard [for her] to go out, just staying home and waiting, hopefully coming here."

Rawya Zalam, before she gave birth in March. The woman is university educated and is hoping to immigrate to Canada through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. (Submitted/Nowra Zalam)

Rawya Zalam and her husband just had a baby boy seven weeks ago. Nowra Zalam told CBC News on Wednesday that the family was not able to cross the Syrian border into Turkey to flee the country.​

As true Newfoundlanders, you can't just leave something like that.- Bob Hobbs

Bishop's Falls Mayor Bob Hobbs, who volunteers with the Syrian refugee sponsorship committee, said he's been told that because Zalam is still in Aleppo, she doesn't fit the definition of a refugee — and can't be accepted under that federal program.

Syrian woman separated from sister

Here and Now

4 years ago
Nowra Zalam came to Bishop's Falls last year as a refugee. She's been separated from her older sister, Rawya, who's stuck in Aleppo. 1:35

Now, the group is working with a business in the area on an application under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program.

"It's extremely dangerous [in Syria], and day to day, you don't know if you're going to live or not. People around the corner that are getting killed, and babies that are getting killed," Hobbs said.

"As humanitarians, as Canadian citizens, as true Newfoundlanders, you just can't leave something like that, so we've been working hard to try and find a way to get them over here as well."

Nowra Zalam, left, Hayfa Abdullah and Diana Zalam, right, pose for a photo in their new home in Bishop's Falls, after immigrating from a refugee camp in Turkey. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Hobbs wouldn't say which business is submitting the application, but said the process is well underway. The application will need to be approved by the provincial government before Rawya Zalam can apply to Ottawa to immigrate.

"We're very, very anxious, I mean, none of us can really, really picture or imagine what these people are going through."

The group hopes that Rawya Zalam, her husband and their newborn son can all join their relatives in Canada.

'Hopefully soon'

The Zalam family keeps in contact with their daughter on WhatsApp, but can't always get through.

"Sometimes one day, sometimes no," Nowra Zalam said. "It's hard sometimes because in Syria now, not have electric [service]. Sometimes have electric maybe 30 minutes, and charge phone and call my mom and dad."

The family is waiting anxiously for Rawya to be approved for immigration to Canada. "Hopefully soon," Nowra Zalam said.

For now, Nowra and her sister Diana are working one day a week at the Sienna Spa in Grand Falls-Windsor, and taking English lessons.

The Zalam family have been taking English lessons, and the two daughters have been working one day a week at a spa in Grand Falls-Windsor. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Their mom, Hayfa Abdullah, is taking care of her husband who needs weekly dialysis.

The family has other sons and daughters in Turkey and in Belgium.

Nowra Zalam is trying to put her years in Turkey's refugee camps and Syria behind her.

"My home, what's happening now is hard. I can't go home now." 


Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.