Windsor·Refugee Rising

Windsor newcomers open shops, head back to school

Refugees from Iraq and Syria are taking accounting courses and landing office jobs or opening stores and restaurants on a bustling Wyandotte Street East, where business is often conducted in Arabic, the second biggest language in the Windsor region.

'Immigrants are very resilient and will do what they need to do to support their families'

Syrian refugee Saddam Debduk owns a clothing store on Wyandotte Street East. "This business gives us a new life," he says. (Meg Roberts/CBC News)

Significant challenges are faced by the hundreds of refugees who arrive in Windsor and Essex County every year but many are overcoming them through hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Refugees from Iraq and Syria are taking accounting courses and landing office jobs or opening stores and restaurants on a bustling Wyandotte Street East, where business is often conducted in Arabic, the second biggest language in the Windsor region.

On average, Windsor takes in about 250 government-assisted refugees per year. That number spiked last year to 1,157 because of the Syrian refugee crisis. So far this year, Windsor has welcomed 267 government-sponsored refugees and expects to welcome a total of 300 by year end, mostly from Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Immigrants are very resilient and will do what they need to do to support their families," said Kathleen Thomas, Executive Director of the Multicultural Society of Windsor and Essex County. "This is something that newcomers have been doing for many years. If you look around Windsor and Essex County you'll notice that many businesses are owned by immigrants."

CBC Windsor interviewed four refugee families who have either opened businesses or gone back to school in the bid to support their families in Windsor. Here are their stories:

The Graduate: Ayman Eid

Ayman Eid graduated from Trios College and landed a job as a payroll specialist. "I was so happy when I was hired in this field," he said. (Meg Roberts)

Life in Canada hasn't been easy for Ayman Eid but the Syrian refugee who fled bullets and bombs is now balancing books and a burgeoning family.

Eid fled Syria for Lebanon in 2015 when terrorists invaded his city and a bomb destroyed the house he and his brother had spent their savings renovating. Read more...

The Restaurateurs: Ahmed And Mahmood 

Mahmood Dalboohi, left, and Ahmed Yas are Iraqi refugees who now run the Al-Sultan Cafe on Glengarry Avenue in Windsor. (Meg Roberts/CBC News)

A meeting in a Windsor barbershop between two refugees from war-torn Iraq provided the ingredients for a new eatery serving Middle Eastern cuisine.

Mahmood Dalboohi and Ahmed Yas took very different journeys to Windsor but now run the the Al-Sultan Cafe on Glengarry Avenue. 

"I'm just thanking the gods to help me get this job," said Yas. Read more...

The Bookkeeper: Wisam Hado

Wisam Hado, a refugee from Iraq, runs a bustling bookkeeping business on Wyandotte Street East. (Meg Roberts/CBC News)

Leaving the Iraq he called home for nearly 40 years was one of the hardest decisions he's ever made. He only made it when men wearing masks arrived on his doorstep and told him to leave they kill him and his family.

Wisam Hado was an accountant with a lucrative business in Iraq but, as a persecuted Christian in a predominantly Muslim area, felt he had no choice but to flee. Read more...

The Clothier: Saddam Debduk

Syrian refugee Saddam Debduk owns a clothing store on Wyandotte Street East. "This business gives us a new life," he says. (Meg Roberts/CBC News)

Saddam Debduk can still smell the fields he tended back home in Syria. Looking out the window of his clothing store on Wyandotte Street East, he daydreams he's again working with the sick plants, nurturing them back to health.

His reveries are broken by the chatter of customers coming in and out, perusing the colourful clothes in the shop he and his wife opened a year ago, six months after arriving in Windsor from a sprawling refugee camp in Turkey, where they sought refuge from the turmoil in their native Syria. Read more...

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