Perhaps what makes the Syrian refugee crisis a struggle for some people to understand is that most of us don’t have first-hand experience with living inside a war-ravaged country. We may have grown up hearing stories about our great-grandparents and the circumstances that often forced them to leave their country of birth but that’s not the same as living the experience.
Alia Kamareddine of Port Philip knows first-hand what it’s like. She and her husband, Sam Mohamad, immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1988, shortly after they married at the age of 18. They left Lebanon because of the civil war that ravaged their homeland between 1975 and 1990.
Alia and Sam and their four children are Muslim. What does it mean to be Muslim, to raise children and run a business and have a social life in Nova Scotia? To be one of “those people” in a place like Cumberland County?
“We’re very happy to be living here,” Alia says. “There’s lots of nice people, and I never get any backlash from anyone. I’ve never experienced that ever.”
So when Alia reads comments about Muslim refugees being a drain on Canada, or that all Muslims are terrorists, it makes her feel very sorry for the refugees.
“They’re running away from ISIS and lots of them don’t have houses or water or electricity, they don’t have anything,” she says. “I really sympathize with them because we went through the same thing in Lebanon during the civil war.”
Alia and Sam have three sons and a daughter, Zaynah, who at 15 is the youngest. She is more than willing to engage in conversation with others about the realities facing the Syrian refugees.
“I feel like some people don’t understand what the Syrians are coming from,” she says. “They’re trying to leave their country of war. My parents were in the same situation, not as extreme, but they came from war and they came here and started with nothing. Now we have a business and a house and food, we have everything we need, and I feel the Syrian refugees can do the same thing.”
Zaynah, who is fluent in Arabic, sees both sides of the story presented through the news and shared on Facebook.
“There’s been a lot of wars in the Middle East so I feel the people there who are writing the news have been through the same things the Syrians are going through now. When I see Facebook posts from Canada targeting the Syrians, saying they are terrorists and they don’t belong here, that really breaks my heart.”
What breaks her mother’s heart is the impact the war in Syria is having on children. “The children are hungry and they can’t go to school. None of them are going to school now. The UN should do something about that,” Alia says.
So really, any immigrant, any refugee, any Muslim is just like any of us. The average person in Syria, in Lebanon, in Turkey or Ukraine or any other place of conflict just wants to work, raise their kids and be safe.
“We want to live in peace but politics kills people,” Alia says. “It’s not the people, it’s politics. It’s like you have a checkers game and someone big is moving those checkers.”
“Canada is the most peaceful and accepting country,” she adds, “so we expect Canadians won’t have a problem letting in Syrian refugees.”
Sara Jewell is a freelance writer who lives near Port Howe.