Nfld. & Labrador

Leaving Syria behind: A young family starts over in St. John's

Saleh Isa says, thanks to his family's new life in Newfoundland, smiles have finally returned to his children's faces — but his heart still breaks for the family he's left behind in Syria.

Saleh Isa learned his sister died after a hospital didn't have proper medical supplies

Syrian family starts over in St. John's

Here and Now

4 years agoVideo
6:23
Saleh Isa's family has a new start, but his heart breaks for the family he's left behind. 6:23

Saleh Isa says, thanks to his family's new life in Newfoundland, smiles have finally returned to his children's faces — but his heart still breaks for the family he's left behind in Syria.

"Of course, it's very hard. You're leaving behind your family, your relatives, your home, your neighbourhood — you're leaving everything behind," Isa, with the help of an interpreter, told St. John's Morning Show host Anthony Germain. 

At the end, one's life is what really matters.- Saleh Isa

Isa and his wife, Nagwa, settled in St. John's six months ago with their three young children: sons Mahmoud and Muad, who are nine and four respectively, and seven-year-old daughter, Saja.

The children are now in school for the first time, and the family is preparing to brave their second Canadian winter. As one of 10 siblings, Isa said his family has been displaced all over the world.

Saleh Isa has nine brothers and sisters. His large extended family (pictured above) has been displaced from their home in northeastern Syria. (Submitted by Saleh Isa)

While younger nieces and nephews were encouraged to flee to Lebanon and Turkey, many of his brothers and sisters stayed behind in Syria.

Deciding to leave, he said, is a dangerous and difficult journey.

'We might not ever see them again'

Before the war, Isa was a postal worker in Al-Hasakah, a northeastern town near the Turkish border.

Earlier this month, Isa learned that his older sister died of a heart attack while en route to hospital.

"By the time they reached the first hospital, they found out it didn't have any of the supplies — the most basic ones — it didn't even have the oxygen that she needed," he said.

Saleh Isa's older sister, Marem, died earlier this month while en route to hospital for a heart attack. Isa says the first hospital she was taken to didn't have basic supplies like oxygen. (Submitted by Saleh Isa)

"So she had to be sent to another one further away. She didn't make it. She died on the way."

Isa's cousin, a young doctor who recently married, was killed when his hospital in Damascus was bombed.

"Nothing can replace the ability to be able to be with your family," said Isa's wife, Nagwa.

"To be with your mother, your father, with your siblings. To be together … Now, we have to come to terms with the possibility that our family members might die and we might not ever see them again," she said.

Despite the heartache, Isa and his wife said they're very grateful "to the very warm and welcoming Canadian people, to the people of Newfoundland."

"At the end, one's life is what really matters, so you have to think of your family and you have to think of taking them to safety," he said.

Watch more of the Isa family's interview in the video player above.

With files from Anthony Germain

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