Saskatchewan

Regina residents rally to reunite Syrian family

After the recent alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, refugees who have made it to Regina are on high alert about their family members still overseas.

Alleged chemical-weapons attack earlier in April has refugees in Canada on edge

A man walks on a damaged street in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria, on Feb. 25, 2018. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

After the recent alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria, refugees who have made it to Regina are on high alert about their family members overseas. One family is now seeking help from the local community to bring a brother to Canada, while trying to stay in contact with other relatives. 

Abdelkarim Elaiwy and Rawda al Khalifa have several brothers and sisters who still live in Syria. Al Khalifa said through the help of a translator that the alleged April 7 bombings "happened in a very close area, so it's mainly added instability and fear to the family."
A child receiving oxygen following an alleged poison gas attack in Douma, Syria. Syrian rescuers and medics said the attack on Douma killed at least 40 people. The Syrian government denied the allegations, which could not be independently verified. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

They are trying to bring over al Khalifa's brother and his family. They say they are living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. 

Elaiwy and al Khalifa came to Regina with their four children as refugees two years ago. A few months after arriving, they were in Wascana Park and had a chance encounter with a local man by the name of Blair Roberts. They became friends and Roberts wanted to help the family by starting a GoFundMe page. 

"The situation happening in Syria and the refugee camps and Lebanon and surrounding areas, you know, that's always kind of broken my heart," said Roberts. "We can't just leave people over there to fix this problem. It's a very tough reality that they're facing."

A local church, which wishes to remain anonymous, has also agreed to cover half of the costs of the sponsorship to move family members to Regina.

Elaiwy said the family is grateful to have come to Canada and wants to return the favour by giving back to the community.  

'We say that we are broken'

Naeila AlShatir said all Syrians that come to Canada appreciate people here opening their doors, but "imagine that you are asleep in the warm bed, in the comfortable pillow, but inside of you there's cold. You can't be warm ... We are trees and we can't cut the root of these trees."
AlShatir hosts her own one-hour radio show in Arabic every Saturday on CJTR. (Submitted by Naeila AlShatir)

AlShatir is originally from Syria. She now works at the Regina Open Door Society and hosts a radio show on CJTR in Arabic. But she still has family living in Syria and hasn't seen her sisters in more than six years. 

"The seventh of April 2018, it was a tragic day for all the humanity on the world," said AlShatir. "Many of the Syrian family [here] has relatives from the first degree — sons, daughters, sisters, brothers — and are they in an unsafe place?"

"We say that we are broken, our heart is broken and we didn't say anything because we are very far from them," said AlShatir. "But inside of you there's like a big pain, a severe pain of what's happened. [Did] they survive or not?

"The killing is not stopping in Syria. ... The political rule which is playing in Syria is like a big cake and everyone needs pieces of cake."

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition