Nova Scotia

Syrian family adjusting to Halifax, but father and son still overseas

The war in Syria marks its fifth anniversary today and in Halifax, one family has had a partial reunion but it could be a while before they are all together again.

The Althiab family are Druze, a religion that has been persecuted by the Islamic State

Nawras Althiab (left) was reunited with his sister Anwar and his mother Sharifa at the Halifax airport in February. His father and brother are still in Germany though, and it could be a long time before he sees them again. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

As the war in Syria marks its fifth anniversary today, half of the country's 17 million people have been displaced by the conflict.

In Halifax, one family has had a partial reunion, but it still could be a while before they are all reunited.

The Althiab family are Druze — a religion that has been persecuted by the Islamic State. The Althiabs escaped the conflict in the southern city of As Suwayda, and were lucky enough to have relatives they could stay with in Lebanon.

"It's just a temporary place to live in," said Nawras Althiab. 

The eight members of his immediate family had little hope of building a future there. His 10-year-old sister, Anwar, couldn't even go to school.

Long journey to Canada

Nawras, who had been studying to become a doctor at Damascus University, found out about a program through World University Service of Canada to bring student refugees here. He applied, was accepted, and came to Halifax to attend university in the fall of 2015.

Days after he left Lebanon, his father and brother also left in search of a life for the rest of the family in Europe.

They travelled through Turkey, into Greece and eventually all the way to Germany. They hoped to bring Nawras's mother, Sharifa, and young Anwar to Germany within a month.

"But it turns out there are so many Syrians there," said Nawras. "It's so crowded, and it takes so much time to process [the paperwork]."

When Nawras arrived in Halifax, he got in touch with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, to see if anyone was looking to sponsor a Syrian family.

The organization put him in touch with the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax, which is a sponsorship agreement holder through the federal government.

Father and brother still in Germany

The church sponsored his family, and they landed in Nova Scotia in February. That included his mother and younger sister, but also his older sister, her husband, their toddler and their month-old baby. 

But that leaves his father and 19-year-old brother in Germany.

"They don't have legal papers yet, they can't even work," Nawras said.

Because they are already in a safe country, it's much more difficult to bring them to Canada. So the two of them go to classes and learn German, while Sharifa is here, learning English.

"The hardest part is for my mother and dad, they are separated," he said. "The church right now is trying to rejoin at least my father with his wife and daughter. They are doing a good job."

Sharifa, who was a teacher in Syria, said it's difficult to adjust to a life without work, in a place so far from her family and friends. But she has her son Nawras to rely on and daughter Anwar is thriving at school here in Nova Scotia. 

"We want her to be very successful," Sharifa said. 

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