Seeking safety from Syria

Tara Bradbury
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Iraqi family settled in St. John’s after fleeing two civil wars

As a young Iraqi mother, Enas Al Yasiri recalls the fear she felt living in her country 10 years ago. With three small children and another one on the way, there were times that she lived in absolute terror, she says.

The streets of Aleppo, Syria, show the scars of fighting between government forces and Free Syrian army fighters Wednesday. — Photo by The Associated Press/Aleppo Media Center, AMC

She has family members who were decapitated during the civil war, and her eldest daughter’s elementary school was hit by missiles twice. Another time, she says, terrorists killed the school’s guard. Military tanks were commonplace on the streets, and no one was ever sure whether they’d be able to travel safely from one place to another.

“Every day, we didn’t know what would happen the next day,” she explains. “Oh my God, it was terrible.”

Al Yasiri and her husband gathered their children and fled Iraq for Syria in 2006, where they spent the next five years as refugees. At that time, Al Yasiri says, it was an idyllic place, beautiful and full of tourists; and, although her family missed their relatives in Iraq, they were happy there. Three of her children attended school and thrived. Ask them what they remember of Syria, and they will smile.

“It was good,” says her 10-year-old son.

“We were safe,” adds her daughter, 12.

A few years ago, however, Al Yasiri and her husband could feel a change coming. Protests demanding the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started happening and conflict began, fuelled, she says, by media reports which were often exaggerated or less than truthful. The couple felt it was too close to what had happened in Iraq, and believed they had a good idea of what was going to come next.

Syria’s civil war broke out in the spring of 2011, and Iraqi refugee Enas Al Yasiri and her family decided it was time to flee, once again. The situation was all too familiar, she says.

“It was the same thing in Iraq — it started small,” she says. “I was afraid. But my God heard me at that time.”

The family received a call from the United Nations, asking whether they would consider going to Canada or the United States.

Right away, they chose Canada, although they didn’t know much about the country, apart from Toronto and Ottawa. They were given St. John’s as an option and accepted it, even though they had never heard of Newfoundland and Labrador before.

Al Yasiri and her family have been here ever since, and she says it didn’t take long to adjust. With she and her husband both working and their children in school, they’re happy and feel secure here, she says, and are comfortable about their children’s future.

They often worry about family and friends in the Middle East.

Al Yasiri has two sisters still in Iraq and another one living in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed.

More than ninemillion Syrians have been displaced from their homes.

A Sarin nerve gas attack in a Damascus suburb late last month reportedly killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children; Al Yasiri doesn’t believe Assad was responsible, putting it down to rebels instead.

On Wednesday, a Senate panel voted to give U.S. President Barack Obama authority to order a limited military attack against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons.

The president’s intention to use military force has been met with much protest in the United States and around the world, with opponents holding public demonstrations and saying military action will result in more tragedy. Al Yasiri agrees.

Click here to read an opinion piece written by Al Yasiri on her feelings about American intervention in Syria.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury



Organizations: United Nations

Geographic location: Syria, Iraq, United States Canada Toronto Ottawa Newfoundland and Labrador Middle East Damascus Syria.tbradbury

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