Even through a translator, Tareq Abo-Nofal’s anger is evident — but his passion for his new country is even more obvious.
The Palestinian father of three arrived in Canada on Sept. 20, after years of fighting through red tape to get his family to a safer place. He finally succeeded, but there are still loose ends to tie up, and years of broken promises by officials who were supposed to help the family out of a Syrian refugee camp.
Tareq, along with wife Eman and children Dana, 16, Ziad, 14, and Bilal, 11, will be living in Creston for the next year, under the care of the Creston Refugee Committee.
Tareq was born in Iraq after his father left Palestine in the 1940s.
“The Palestinians, they are always living in a period of instability,” Tareq said through translator Adem Salimidris, a refugee from Sudan that was sponsored by Cranbrook/Kimberley Friends of Burma.
The Abo-Nofal family lived in Iraq prior to the outbreak of war. There, Tareq said, the Sunni family lived peacefully; he supported them as a security guard at an oil company, until one day in 2005 when he was approached by Shi’a militants and told he would have to leave or be killed.
Sunni and Shi’a people began fighting, and the Abo-Nofal family fled to Damascus, Syria, to a notorious refugee camp.
When asked about how people can tell a Sunni family from a Shi’a one, Tareq said the two grew up together, and everyone in the village knew each other before the war broke out and Sunni and Shi’a people began to discriminate against each other.
Tareq said through Salimidris that his two brothers, Omar and Mohammed, were both murdered because they chose to stay in their homes. The first brother was killed in 2006, and the other a year later. Their murders were never solved. Luckily, their children were sent to the U.S. as refugees and are safe.
At the Syrian refugee camp, Tareq said they lived in fear, unsure of who would attack the family. The Canadian government promised to take 200 people in to start a new life in North America. Tareq said that promise was not kept — and only 26 people, including his family, were allowed to emigrate from the camp in Syria to greener pastures in Canada. That meant that Tareq’s original application for eight people, to include his ailing mother, elderly father and aunt, was denied.
Tareq spoke of the unfairness in the camp, when UN officials would make decisions and rules that meant that some families could leave the country, and some couldn’t.
The Creston committee was hoping to sponsor a different family, but because it will take at least a year for that application to go through, it decided to take in Tareq, Eman, Bilal, Dana and Ziad. The committee became a sponsorship agreement holder, which means it is responsible for the family’s care and financial needs for a year.
The family are landed immigrants, and will now have to work toward paying off travel loans provided by the government to get them to Canada. They will also work toward becoming Canadian citizens. Tareq and Eman are taking ESL classes, and the three children are already enrolled in school and loving it.
Barbara Ryeburn, a member of Cranbrook/Kimberley Friends of Burma, hosted the Abo-Nofal family at her Cranbrook home on Sept. 23. She expressed her relief at the arrival of the family, and spoke about the Canadian government’s decision to limit sponsorships.
“We’re really happy these guys made it here this year,” she said.
Even though the sponsors and refugees take care of all costs associated with a private sponsorship, Ryeburn said regulations are changing, and the Abo-Nofals could be the last family they can take in for awhile. She said the government has told them too many people are applying, and they will have to limit the number of people allowed to come to Canada as refugees.
“Why can’t we come up with a solution?” Ryeburn wondered.
Tareq played a message on his cellphone, in which friends left behind in the Syrian refugee camp begged for help. The conversation turned to his parents and aunt, who are in Italy as refugees.
“Their life, they can’t afford it there by themselves,” Tareq said, adding that he believes they were denied refugee status in Canada because of their health problems. Tareq still hopes to be able to get the rest of his family to Canada.
When asked about what being in Canada means to them, Tareq’s demeanour softens, and a wide smile breaks out on his face. Eman, quiet throughout the interview, suddenly pipes up.
“He’s two days old,” Salimidris translated. “For him, it’s like he’s reborn. He feels human.”
Eman said that as a woman, she feels safer, more private, and as if her family is finally her own. She has great hope for her children in their new country, and has watched them get closer and happier. Eman pointed to the three teenagers, sitting together on a bench in Ryeburn’s yard, and laughed about how they usually fight, but are now getting along and playing things like soccer together.
Upon arriving at Ryeburn’s house, Eman and Dana crowded around her computer to get in touch with relatives and friends, and Bilal kicked around a soccer ball with Ziad.
Eman said that Bilal didn’t want to come to Canada because he didn’t want to have to go to school. As soon as he started school in Creston, Eman said that Bilal now doesn’t want to leave, and was upset to discover that Canadian children do not go to school on the weekend.
Tareq said that they have found everyone to be very friendly so far. Ryeburn asked if they had prepared for any discrimination about their Muslim religion, to which Tareq confidently replied through Salimidris, “A human is human here.”
— CRANBROOK DAILY TOWNSMAN