North

His family has moved east, but this Syrian refugee is staying in Yukon

Ismail Aarafat arrived in Whitehorse two years ago with his parents and siblings. Now, he's working as a barber and loving the Yukon lifestyle.

'It's a very good place to start,' says Ismail Aarafat, now working at a Whitehorse barbershop

Ismail Aarafat came to Yukon two years ago as a refugee. Now he's working at a Whitehorse barbershop and practicing his English with the customers. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

His family has moved to warmer climes, but Ismail Aarafat says he has no plans to leave Yukon, his home for the last two years.

"I am staying here right now," the Syrian refugee said, in between customers at the Whitehorse barbershop where he works.

"It's been two years in Yukon, I feel like it's one month. It's going quickly."

Aarafat arrived in Whitehorse in January 2016, along with the rest of his 11-member family. They were the first Syrian refugees brought to Yukon under the current sponsorship program.

Last year, his family decided to pack up and move on — to Windsor, Ont., where they'd find a larger community of Syrian-Canadians.

Aarafat decided to stay. He liked his new job as a barber (something he hadn't done before), and was enjoying the Yukon lifestyle — walking, biking, playing soccer, and ice fishing.

He also likes the people, who he says have been helpful and patient as he's worked to learn English.

"If I do mistakes, they don't laugh at me," he said. "It's a very good place to start. Because it's not big city. It's nice."

Aarafat admits that life in Yukon was difficult at first, though.

"It's a new country, new roles, new people, new language, new weather — and everything very much new to you," he said.

Taking a job at the barbershop helped him settle in to his new life. He met lots of people, and got to practice his English daily.

"You don't have to be shy. If you're shy, you don't learn. This is my advice for people — so, don't be shy," he said.

"Do mistakes, it's OK. You will learn."

He plans to visit his relatives in Windsor as often as he can, but he's also anticipating the arrival of some other familiar faces in Yukon. The charitable group Yukon Cares hopes to bring another Syrian family, relatives of the Aarafats, to Whitehorse this year.

"I'm waiting for them. I hope they come soon. That would be awesome," Ismail said.

"I will get them shaved as well, and haircuts."

With files from Sandi Coleman

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