Refugees from Syria find life on P.E.I. 'perfect'

The first government-sponsored Syrian family to land on P.E.I. is very happy a week into their new life in Canada.

The Al Rashdan family arrived on P.E.I. on Dec. 28

The Al Rashdan family, refugees from Syria, is just starting to learn about life in Charlottetown, and how to weather the Canadian winter. (CBC)

The first government-sponsored Syrian family to land on P.E.I. is very happy a week into their new life in Canada.

"Everything has been perfect," Amjad Al Rashdan told CBC News.

"I feel like Syrians and Canadians are brothers, family."

There are five in the Al Rashdan family: Amjad, his wife, Ghouson, and the three children, Basel, 10, Shatha, six, and Idress, four. They are one small group among thousands who have fled war-torn Syria, and have now found their way to Canada.

A comfortable, suburban life

Amjad Al Rashdan says life became unbearable in Syria. (CBC)

Amjad Al Rashdan said the family once led a wonderful life in a suburb of Damascus. He worked as a veterinarian, restaurant owner, and in food security with the government.

"My life was very good," he said through an interpreter.

"I had a good position in the Ministry of Agriculture, and I had a restaurant near Damascus."

But once the civil war broke out in 2011, he said, life became unbearable. Food and gas were almost unaffordable, travel became slow and difficult. Increasingly, he said, his family lived in fear.

"Several times, I witnessed with my own eyes bombs being thrown at buildings 50 or 100 metres away," said Al Rashdan.

He tried moving elsewhere in Syria — to Daraa where he grew up, and to a summer camp his kids used to visit — but found conditions were no better.

A move to Jordan

The family finally fled Syria in December 2012, settling in Amman, Jordan.

"It was painful to leave. But we had no choice. It was unbearable in Syria," Al Rashdan said.

He found an apartment and a job in the juice industry, but he said the hours were long and the pay was minimal. The three kids went to school, but the education they received was poor.

He hoped their time in Jordan would be short-lived, that the conflict in Syria would end within months.

But the conflict continued.

So Al Rashdan and his family stayed in Jordan, waiting in the queue to be accepted as refugees somewhere.

Finally, Al Rashdan learned Canada was accepting thousands of refugees, and grew hopeful his family could start a new life in this country.

Flight to Canada

Basel Al Rashdan found the weather cold when he arrived a week ago, but has since enjoyed playing in the snow. (CBC)

On Dec. 28, the Al Rashdans arrived at Charlottetown Airport.

It was one of the coldest days of the month, with fresh snow on the ground and more falling.

For Al Rashdan, the cold was dispelled by the warmth of the people greeting him.

"From the moment we arrived at the airport, we received a very warm welcome," he said.

"The group that received us was really warm-hearted and received us with love. Everything has been going so smoothly, and I really feel like I'm still in my hometown."

Ten-year-old Basel initially found it cold, but has since discovered playing in the snow is one of his favourite things about being in Canada.

Al Rashdan is hopeful his children will obtain the highest level of education, and learn to love and serve their adopted country.

But it is his own goal to some day return home to Syria.

"First thing I hope is for my country to come back to what it was, that security comes back to my country," he said.

"For my own people to go back to our hometown, and live in peace."

with files from Steve Bruce