The London Press - Maria Shalash is a typical London teen. She attends church on Sunday, drinks black coffee from Tim Hortons and tutors her siblings in high school. What sets Shalash apart from other 19-year-olds is her eagerness to learn Canada’s national anthem by Friday.

“I want to be Canadian,” she said. “I want to learn the national anthem.”

After losing her father to cancer in the midst of the deadly war in Syria that has displaced more than 11 million people since 2011, Shalash left Damascus in the fall of 2015 with her mother Rima and two younger siblings.

Months later, the mourning family reunited with loved ones in London after they were sponsored by Byron United Church that had also sponsored Rima’s younger twin sisters Rasha and Rihab a year prior.

Maria Shalash’s family is among 1,000 Syrian refugees who have poured into London since Canada began settling more than 27,000 refugees last December. London’s refugee intake is third highest among Ontario cities.

Posted: 06/30/2016 - 10:24

Westman Journal Ottawa - What's your secret wish? That's the first question teacher Winnie Canuel asks her students at the start of English as a second language classes at her Edmonton school.

For Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, an Iraqi refugee from Syria, there were two answers. First, he wanted to be a soccer player. But second, and perhaps more urgently, he wanted to tell his story.

This week, that wish was realized in a way the soft-spoken 15-year-old never imagined: it was published in a book.

Al Rabeeah and Canuel began working together last fall, about six months after his family arrived in Canada as 10 of the 23,000 Iraqi refugees who've settled here since 2009.

His family lived with the war for three years before being brought to Canada via the United Nations.

Canuel had long thought about writing a book of her own, telling friends she was waiting for the right story to find her. In listening to al Rabeeah talk about his family and his experiences, she found it.

The novel they wrote together, called "Homes," is now for sale in Edmonton bookstores and online.

Posted: 06/29/2016 - 14:49

Hamilton Spectator Milton - Maisam Al Sawadi touches the artificial turf at Tim Hortons Field for the first time and he is impressed.

"It's beautiful," says the nine-year-old Syrian refugee, who's in Grade 3 at Cathy Wever School. "I like it more than real grass. It's not long, it's short and nice."

Although he plays pickup games with friends at school, Maisam has never played organized soccer before, but he's only a few days away from getting his chance.

When the second season of the ArcelorMittal Grassroots Soccer Program — for children ages 5 to 13 living in the general vicinity of the stadium — begins at Tim Hortons Field with uniform distribution Tuesday and the first games July 12, it will expand from 100 players to 500.

And 110 of them, more than 20 per cent of the enrolment, will be Syrian refugees who have immigrated to Hamilton in the past few months.

"Canada is very diversified now, we're a country of many ethnicities. I think our city is a melting pot and this is an example of what our city really is."

Posted: 06/29/2016 - 13:40

CBC News Ottawa - An Ottawa volunteer group is launching a summer camp for recently arrived refugee children so their parents can continue to take language classes.

The camp, which starts next week, will be run by Proactive Education for All Children's Enrichment, or PEACE. It starts next week, and will provide free programming from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., five days a week. 

The Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre agreed to provide space for the summer camp.

It will take any low-income children from the area, but most of the 60 spots are filled by Syrian children.

Brigitte La Rose, who runs children's programs at the centre, said she thinks the camp is a good way for the Syrian children and other children who are enrolled to interact with and learn from each other.

"What better way to do it than in a summer camp," La Rose said. 

The program, which will have a staff of six, will take the kids to neighbouring parks, as well as on longer trips with the goal of showing the children all the free activities available in Ottawa.

Posted: 06/29/2016 - 12:17

CBC News New Brunswick - Mahmud Kahwaji passed his road test on Monday in Sussex in his second attempt.

"I am very happy" said the Syrian refugee.

Kahwaji said he would usually call other people when he wanted to go somewhere but now he can travel alone.

Zakaria Al Sabagh is another refugee and also passed his road test Monday.

"I need to get a car now and take my family touring to see Canada everywhere and I need to find a job," said Al Sabagh. "I need to start again with my life."

Kahwaji and Al Sabagh are two of several Syrian refugees who already have licences despite not fully learning English yet.

The province offers the written test translated in Arabic and allows a translator during the road test.

The decision to offer the test in Arabic was made in December by the province.

"The changes were made to help ease the transition for this group." said Paul Bradley, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety in an email.

Posted: 06/29/2016 - 11:58

CBC News Windsor - The cultural mix in Leamington, better known for its migrant workers from Jamaica and Mexico, now includes three families of Syrian refugees. They are part of a major influx of 125 Syrian refugees expected within the year.

It's been a long journey for the Halil family, but they now have a place to call home, 9,400 km from Aleppo, Syria.

"We weren't expecting to come here but it was a nice, pleasant surprise to be in Canada, in Leamington specifically, because it's very beautiful," said Fatma Halil, mother of four.

Her husband, Abdulrazzak Halil, says safety is key.

"The kids are very happy. They are in school. They are making friends and being safe is a huge difference to us," he said.

They rely heavily on the New Canadians' Centre of Excellence's resettlement assistance program for support.

Unlike Windsor, and most Canadian cities, the agency says housing isn't an issue in Leamington.

"We haven't had a challenge, yet, so far, thank God," program lead Rima Nohra said. "We're very blessed that way. The landlords are very accommodating and they're welcoming. Even the large family will be OK, will be set, the family of 10 will have a house soon, too."

The family of 10 arrived earlier this month.

Posted: 06/28/2016 - 09:50

CBC News - A Toronto charity hopes to make Syrian refugees in Waterloo Region feel at home as they celebrate their first Ramadan in a new country.

Julie Mahfouz heads up The Clothing Drive, which has spearheaded a project to give Syrian families food hampers to celebrate the end of Ramadan on July 6.

"We wanted to give them something that would remind them of Ramadan in their homes, because this is the first Ramadan that they would be spending without their families," Mahfouz said.

Food and gifts

The hampers will contain foods familiar to the families, including lentils, bulgur and sweets called maamoul, and gifts for children.

Her group has already delivered hampers in Toronto, Hamilton and Burlington.

"With Kitchener, there isn't as large a support network as there is in, let's say, Toronto or Mississauga, when it comes to the Syrian families," she said.

Local volunteers will pack the baskets at the Great Hall at Conrad Grebel University College, and then deliver them on Saturday.

Posted: 06/24/2016 - 14:48

Exchange Waterloo Region - The Immigration Partnership Council announced three new grants to agencies and private sponsorship groups supporting Syrian newcomers. $51,470 in new grants under the Immigration Partnership Fund for Syrian Newcomers was approved in May, bringing total grants to $348,970.

New grants include:

  • $6,000 to a private sponsorship group led by Mark Bowman to support the funeral costs of a Syrian family with a member who was diagnosed with a fatal illness upon arrival.
  • $20,470 to Kitchener Public Library to convene women-focused social and conversation groups and English conversation circles at library spaces throughout the city.
  • $25,000 to the Community Coalition of Refugee and Immigrant Concerns to help refugees access services and support their wellbeing, and to work with local agencies to develop cultural awareness and support private sponsorship groups.

Since November 2015, more than 26,600 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Over 1,200 have settled in Waterloo Region.

Posted: 06/24/2016 - 14:15

The Star - Hamza Ali, 13, remembers clearly the day last November when a trio of Canadian cabinet ministers, including Immigration Minister John McCallum, trooped into an ad-hoc art gallery set up in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Ottawa - Federal politicians meet a lot of people, but Syrian children don’t meet a lot of federal politicians - let alone the same one twice, in two different countries, each a world apart from the other.

Hamza Ali, 13, remembers clearly the day last November when a trio of Canadian cabinet ministers trooped into an ad-hoc art gallery set up in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Ali, one of the artists, shook the ministers’ hands and explained the concept behind his gripping paintings of women and men struggling with life and the war in Syria.

Immigration Minister John McCallum told Ali he was struck by the symbolism of a painting showing a woman carrying a map of Syria on her back up a flight of stairs, a heavy red sky in the background.

“Women do all the heavy lifting,” McCallum remarked.

That painting now hangs in Health Minister Jane Philpott’s office in Ottawa. McCallum didn’t have one — until Monday.

Posted: 06/23/2016 - 11:55

CBC News Nova Scotia - The Muslim holy month of Ramadan continues and a special meal was held at a Halifax area Islamic centre Saturday night, but it was especially meaningful for one family from Syria.

The Al Hraki family can't say exactly when they arrived in Canada. They think it may have been four or five days ago, but because of jet lag their memories are fuzzy. 

A transatlantic journey is difficult enough, but during Ramadan when the faithful must fast from dawn to sunset, it presents an extra challenge.

Ahmed Al Hraki is a 28-year-old electrician who flew to Canada with his mother, father and 25-year-old brother

"The challenge began the moment they took the flight from Germany to Toronto because they never went on that long of a flight, nine hours or so," he said through a translator.

"They are adapting very well," the translator said. "Because the weather here is way better than in their refugee camp. It's way cooler here so they are enjoying that and the fresh air is giving them the energy they need to be productive during the day."

The Al-Rasoul Islamic Centre was hoping to further ease the transition with their Iftar.

Posted: 06/21/2016 - 15:38