Nfld. & Labrador

From Syria to St. John's: Refugee family settling into new life in N.L.

When Mohammed Al Farah stepped off a plane in St. John's and was met with rain and fog, a flurry of emotions hit him, adding a weight to his already tired body that was carrying two sleepy children.

'I love Canada for accepting me,' says Syrian father of 3

Ali Al Farah, 6 months, and Hala Al Farah, 5, moved to St. John's with their parents as government-sponsored refugees in October. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

When Mohammed Al Farah stepped off a plane in St. John's and was met with rain and fog, a flurry of emotions hit him, adding a weight to his already tired body that was carrying two sleepy children. 

Syrian family settles into St. John's

"I can't explain it, I was crying inside. Crying a lot," said Al Farah, through an interpreter. 

"The moment I stepped off the plane [I] was very emotional, but I knew I was in a safe place, and that's what mattered."

Mohammed Al Farah walks home from school with his 5-year-old daughter Hala and 4-year-old son Hussein. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

Al Fahra, his wife Zahra and their three children started their journey not just days before when they boarded a flight in Jordan, but years before when the family made a harrowing but essential decision to flee Syria. 

"If I stayed in Syria, I would have been forced to join the army and fight and I would have had to kill people. I just couldn't do that," said Al Farah.

At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Al Farah, a pastry chef, was one of the first peaceful protesters to march in the streets of his hometown of Homs. He, like many others, demanded more from the government leaders. 

Fearing his wife would 'leave hospital in body parts'

It wasn't the bombs and snipers that forced the Al Farah family out of Syria. 

It was the fear that when Zahra was admitted to the hospital to deliver their second child, she would be brutally and unjustly killed.

"When patients go to the hospital, some are killed there, and their organs are cut out of their bodies and sold on the black market," said Al Farah.

Mohammed Al Farah and his daughter Hala, who is in Kindergarten. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

"So if I stayed in Syria, my wife and beautiful baby could have been killed and could have left the hospital in body parts."

The family fled to Jordan and lived there for about four years. 

But the family suffered their share of loss: two of Zahra's brothers were killed in the conflict. She still can't bring herself to speak about their deaths.

Welcomed with smiles 

When the United Nations called and asked the family if they wanted to move to Canada as government-sponsored refugees, the answer was obvious. 

"I love Canada for accepting me and [I love] Canadians because they are always smiling," said Al Farah.

"I don't speak the language, but I know they are welcoming me with their smiles."

Mohammed Al Farah, looking for familiar foods at the only International grocery store in St. John's. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

Al Farah says the hardest part of transitioning to life in St. John's is adapting to the language, the weather and transportation. 

The family will soon start English classes, and Mohammed Al Farah said he's eager to begin looking for work.

"I know I won't find the best job right now, but I'm willing to take just any job. I will do anything and I will work harder than anyone," said Al Farah. 

Settling into St. John's life

The family, now decked out in winter clothing, is still looking for items they need, including furniture and other things they likely took for granted just a few years ago. 

The oldest child, Hala Al Farah, started Kindergarten and despite the language barrier, has made new friends. 

The Association for New Canadians took the family for medical checkups when they arrived, and has been helping them settle. 

Mohammed and Zahra Al Farah say they will be forever grateful for the generosity shown by employees at the Association for New Canadians. 


Caroline Hillier is the producer of the St. John's Morning Show.