After escaping the Syrian Civil War, and spending the following six years living in refugee camps in Iraq and Turkey, a young family can now, finally, feel safe.
Kawa Rammo, 36, and his wife Randa Mohammad, 33, and three children Ashna, 6, Askiyar, 3, and Askivan, 1, visited the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity White Rock Sunday morning, after the church’s regular service.
It was the first time church members got to meet the family, which they sponsored to bring to Canada.
Rammo, who has experience working on turbines for the oil and gas industry, and his wife, a music teacher, settled into New Westminster last May.
Rammo knows enough English to tell a story, his wife is still learning. However, during the couple’s interview with Peace Arch News Sunday, there was one word that caught Mohammad’s attention.
When asked if they feel safe in their new country, Mohammad looked up, smiled and shook her head in the affirmative before glancing at her one-year-old son, who was sitting in her lap.
The family wore those smiles throughout the morning, shaking hands and sometimes sharing hugs, with everyone who made their new life a possibility.
Rammo explained to PAN that when Syria became dangerously unstable in 2012, he wanted to get out to protect his family. Since the civil war began in March of that year, the United Nations estimated that 400,000 Syrians have been killed and there are approximately five million refugees outside of the country.
The family is originally from Qamishli, which is near the northeastern border that Syria shares with Turkey.
The family soon moved to an United Nations refugee camp in Turkey, before relocating to Iraq. In Iraq, Rammo said, they registered with a refugee camp but rented a house outside of the camp and he found work.
The six years they spent living in or near refugee camps, Rammo said, were “not good.”
“I just went to work and after that I go to the home. We didn’t get to go any place, we just stayed in the home,” he said.
Now, “everything is different.”
“Now we can go to the park, it’s better. Everybody here is OK. Everyone is so nice. The country is so nice, everything is good here. I feel safe,” Rammo said.
Kawa Rammo and his family being introduced to church members.
As the family was being introduced to the church members Sunday, many had Peter Johnson – a prominent member of the church who died in January, on their mind.
Three years ago, Johnson was the first member to pitch the idea of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family.
“He was motivated,” church member Sheila Johnston told PAN, adding that her friend worked with a Syrian man at the Surrey Archives several years ago.
“He very fondly remembered a good working relationship with his Syrian/Canadian friend. It motivated Peter – in honour of that friendship – to tell the church that he wanted to lead a refugee group,” Johnston said.
Fundraising began soon after, with church members raising $27,000 and the church itself donating $10,000 to the cause.
Everything was formalized in 2016, Johnston said, and the church prepared to bring Rammo and his family to the country in that year.
Rammo’s name was selected from a list of refugee families and singles, partly because he had a young family but also because he has a cousin who has lived in the Lower Mainland for more than a decade.
“We were told to expect the family in that calendar year; that didn’t quite work out,” Johnston said.
Several churchgoers said they were unsure why there was a hold up, with some speculating that the call to postpone came from the federal government.
The relocation was postponed until mid-2017, however Mohammad had become pregnant in Iraq with her third child.
“Just when we were getting our act together, we heard that Randa was pregnant,” Johnston said. “Of course, a pregnant mom can’t fly after a certain number of months and a newborn baby can’t fly within the first three months of his life. We were delayed again.”
In the months that followed, Mohammad’s Canadian cousin Bahar Issa kept track of the family and phoned Johnston with a plea for help.
“Bahar phoned me up and said the family is desperate. There was a lot of illness in the camp, a lot of children are sick,” Johnston said. “The violence from Syria migrated north to Iraq – ‘Is there anything you can do expedite their arrival?’”
Johnston told Issa that the church has done everything it could do but, thankfully, on May 8, the family arrived to Vancouver after a 48-hour trip.
And much to Johnston’s delight, Rammo could speak English.
“Kawa is a pretty amazing guy, he’s ambitious,” she said, noting he found work within the first month of arriving in Canada.
Rammo began working for a construction company near his two-bedroom home, which he rents.
His kids have started school and Ashna said, through translation, that she has already began making new friends.
While spending time at the church Sunday, Rammo had nothing negative to say about his new settlement. Even Canadian food, he said, is “not bad, it’s good.”
While Rammo and Mohammad shook hands with all of the churchgoers, the kids played in the Church’s playroom.
Standing from a distance, Johnston made an observation.
“I don’t think they’ve stopped smiling since they’ve been here.”