This Christmas season, Donna Collins and her husband Stephen MacKenzie will be receiving an early Christmas present.
The Pictou couple are awaiting the Albarazi family – the third family they have helped bring to Canada.
Bader Albarazi, his father, Fakher, his mother, Rima (Chahin) and his sister, Ayah, have left their family farm in civil war-enmeshed Syria, and soon will come to their new home. The family has recently gotten an interview and medical checkup in Turkey.
Collins is presently working with Bader and his family to make travel arrangements.
This isn’t the first time Collins and MacKenzie, members of Communities Assisting Refugees Now (CAiRN), have helped a family in need come to Canada. This Christmas season marks the third instance in which they’ve played a part.
The approval of the Albarazi family constitutes an exceptional milestone, for which Collins and MacKenzie are excited. Bader has been instrumental, in past endeavours, in helping bring other families – such as the Casims – to Atlantic Canada.
Bader has worked with the Canadian government, processing refugee claims during the height of the Syrian crisis stemming from the country’s civil war.
Collins said that while working with previous applications, she was hitting serious snags with the language barrier. She was advised to get in touch with Bader, and “the next day, I had all the applications from him, completed and how they were supposed to be done.”
Without Bader’s ability to bridge the language gap between themselves and the previous families they’ve assisted, the entire process would have possibly taken months longer.
“Although the process for him and family came to a standstill, and the resources for processing a claim came to an end, (the Albarazis) never gave up hope on coming to Canada.”
Collins said it was a debt she felt she needed to repay to Bader – to help bring his family to Canada.
“I feel the need not to leave people in the lurch, when they did something for Canada.”
Although she had trouble finding funding and a sponsor at first, Collins met the people who would go on to sponsor the Albarazi family in a truly serendipitous manner. This meeting happened at a pregnancy ultrasound business in Halifax, where she was had taken a member of one of the previous families they brought to Canada.
Laila Abou-Ellail – the woman who worked at the pregnancy clinic – and Amr Nassrat, her husband, quickly became friends with Collins and MacKenzie and offered to sponsor the Albarazi family.
In an interesting local connection, their son Ahmed is a resident of Pictou, and an employee of Sobeys in Stellarton.
Bader and his family were offered Turkish citizenship, but preferred Canada, as their dream has been to start a new life here. Bader described Turkey as an unsafe place for Syrians.
MacKenzie elaborated, adding that refugees in Syria do not have the same rights as full citizens. They are not allowed to own property, nor are they permitted to be formally employed. Often immigrants in Turkey run into issues surrounding their payment for the work they do.
“Shadi, in the second family (we helped bring to Canada) planned to work for a month before he left (Turkey), and the company he worked for said ‘No, we don’t have to pay you, you’re leaving,’ when he went to get his paycheque.”
Although the United Church accepted the application, the matter was far from being out of the woods at that point. The processing of such applications, involving the Canadian embassy in Turkey, can take months, and the Albarazis were expected to undergo a battery of interviews and medical checkups to ensure they were healthy enough to immigrate to Canada.
“When we first started doing this, (their application) really wasn’t approved until February of this year,” said Collins. “(Bader) said his father hadn’t smiled in a year, and when they finally got their interviews, he was beaming – he can’t stop smiling now.”
Collins emphasized what a strong sense of hope getting accepted to immigrate to Canada creates for families, that “it’s hope and life for parents,” escaping trauma in the countries they immigrate from – and that it can take years to even begin to talk about.
In her work bringing families to Pictou, Collins said that although she isn’t particularly religious, the success she and MacKenzie have had in co-ordinating such complicated moves from countries like Syria and Algeria has a feeling of serendipity to it that borders on the divine.
“I’ve been very lucky. I ended up back where I grew up, and managed to succeed while all these other groups can’t even get their second family – or even their first – to Canada,” said Collins. “I always say that the hand of God is there. It always feels like it can’t just be coincidental.”
On Monday, Collins said she expects Bader and his family to arrive in Canada in three to six weeks. Although there will be challenges – only three speak English – she knows it will not take long for the family to adjust to life in Pictou.
“They are always shocked at how quiet it is here, in Nova Scotia. They’re comfortable here because it’s so less chaotic,” said Collins. “It’s their dream to work, and we want to get them all working together – so Bader can provide the translations.”
MacKenzie spoke reverently of the families they’ve already brought to Nova Scotia, adding that none of the families have had to draw on any social assistance.
“They have been able to get into the food industry and make a living out of it, with catering. They’re definitely all hard workers.”