Two Syrian sisters will soon be reunited in Lacombe.
After more than three years of being separated after her family came to Canada in 2016, Naeema Al Omar will finally get to see her sister, Khadija, who had been left behind.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Naeema finally got the call from the Canadian Visa Office that everything was in place for her sister to finally come to Canada.
“Khadija’s got her permanent residence papers. That means they don’t have to do another thing except fly her here,” said Marlene Ironsides, chair of the Lacombe Community Refugee Effort. “You can’t imagine how excited (Naeema) is.”
Naeema, and her family – husband Bashar Al Omar, and children Jouliet, Ghazeye, Mohamad and Ibrahim – arrived in Lacombe on May 26, 2016.
Originally, they’d lived in the Idlib province of Syria, but fled the country with only the shirts on their back during 2011 Arab Spring when conflict between protesters and President Bashar al-Assad escalated.
They settled on a farm outside of the Lebanon capitol, Beirut, where Bashar had a job raising chickens, and Khadija’s own family, including her son Mohammed, 13, and daughter Marwa, 11, lived with them.
When the Al Omar family came to Canada, however, Khadija and her family could no longer stay on the property.
“The farmer had accepted the whole family, so when Bashar left, everyone had to move,” Ironsides said. “It was not good because when that happened, she ended up on the streets, and the kids also lost their school, so they haven’t been to school in over three years.”
Khadija’s husband lost his job and a divorce followed. She had to navigate being a single mom in Lebanon, unable to work, and living in a basic concrete room in a refugee camp with limited services, where they’ve been for the past three years.
The Lacombe Community Refugee Effort submitted an application in Summer 2017 to bring Khadija over and reunite her with Naeema, and in April 2018, they were just waiting to be interviewed and a tentative timeline of spring or summer 2019 had been given for their arrival.
Earlier this year, however, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil began advocating for Syrians to be deported, claiming there was no longer security or safety threats in Syria, and in June, thousands were rounded up and forcibly sent home. That, along with the fact Mohammed is 13 and would be forced to fight for either the al-Assad regime or rebel forces when he turned 15, increased the urgency to bring Khadija and her children to Canada.
In January, they had their interviews with Canadian authorities, and in early February they had undergone medical testing. Now they’re just waiting for flight arrangements to be made.
Emotions have been running high for Naeema, however, as she learned her 22-year-old brother had been severely injured in the ongoing conflict in Syria and was in a coma. She got word he died last week, according to Ironsides, and is now even more anxious for her sister to make it.
“She’s on this emotional roller coaster with her sister coming and her brother dying,” she said.
The refugee effort had made a Facebook post about looking for a rental place close to the schools in order to alleviate the need to bus the children, but Naeema insists she’ll take care of her.
“Naeema said; ‘I will drive her,’ and I said maybe not all the time. She said ‘Yes, she’s my sister – I will drive her all the time.’ It’s really hard to slow her down. She wants her to live as close as possible.”
For at least the first month, Khadija will live with the Al Omar family, but the plan is to give her and her children their own space to call home.
Khadija, who is only 31 and had her own beauty salon in Syria, has already asked about retraining and getting her certificates so she can work again in Canada.
“She’s very motivated,” Ironsides said.
People in the community have been just as motivated to help the family in any way they can, already coming forward with furniture and other items the family may need, so there will be no big drive for such items.
However, lamps and clothing are among the needed items at this point.
To donate, contact Walter and Ella at (403)782-2425, or Marlene Ironsides at (403)350-1753 or email@example.com.