For Syrian refugee family, Canada offers hope — but a faint one

Sanaa Hassan, who fled Syria two years ago with her kids and spends her days looking for handouts in Beirut, was unaware of Canada's pledge to resettle 25,000 refugees. When asked if she'd like to be included, her eyes light up. But even she knows that's unlikely,t he CBC's Derek Stoffel writes.

Single men upset by decision to accept only women, children and families

A Syrian refugee family waves to relatives after boarding a bus in Beirut. There are 1.1 million Syrians living in Lebanon registered with the UN's refugee agency, but the Canadian government is taking in just 25,000 — from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — by year's end. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

The faces of the Syrians who Canada hopes to help are unsmiling and hardened from more than four years of a brutal civil war that shows no sign of ending.

Of course I would go to Canada. What a better life my children would have there.- Sanaa Hassan, Syrian refugee

They are the faces of the three young Hassan children, who spend the day on the streets of central Beirut with their mother as she begs for change to pay for food.

The oldest, Roula, is three. Her cheeks are covered in dirt. She's too young to remember her father, who has been missing inside Syria for more than a year and a half.

"I'm not sure he's even alive," Sanaa Hassan, 28, says. "I spend my days worrying for my husband."

Syrian children stand near their tent at a refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal last week. The Canadian government is bringing in women, children and families, but no single men, as part of its plan to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees in the weeks ahead. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

Hassan and her children fled the northern Syrian province of Idlib two years ago. The family's home was damaged in what Hassan said was an airstrike by the Syrian air force.

Life is much safer in Beirut, but it's still hard. Hassan says she's been unable to find steady work, which means spending several hours every day looking for handouts on the streets of Hamra, a downtown Beirut district packed with cafés and shops also popular with Syrian refugees.

Slight chance

Hassan was unaware of Canada's pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrians, but when asked whether she'd like to be included, her eyes light up and she smiles.

"Of course I would go to Canada," she says. "What a better life my children would have there."

But even she knows that's unlikely.

There are 1.1 million Syrians living in Lebanon registered with the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR. In total, there are roughly four million living in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the countries Canada is drawing its Syrian refugees from.

The Canadian effort will limit those accepted to children, women and families, sources tell CBC News. Unaccompanied men are not expected to be part of the program, due to security concerns.

Outside a coffee shop in Hamra, that detail leaves a group of young Syrian men disappointed.

"It's not fair," said Ismail, 23, who came to Beirut from eastern Syria four years ago.

"We left Syria because we were fleeing war. We are not terrorists. I need to find peace for myself."

Ismail cleans dishes in a Beirut restaurant and tries to send some of his earnings home to his parents, who remain in Syria.

He wants to restart his electrical engineering studies, and urged countries such as Canada to open their doors to all Syrians.

"The war won't stop, so me and my friends need to find a place to start our lives again."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


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