BEDEQUE, P.E.I. - People poured into Bedeque United Church on Saturday afternoon to warmly welcome Bassam Antoun and his family to P.E.I.
The Antoun families were forced in 2012 to flee the city of Zabadani in Syria, after bombs singed and scarred their homes, business and neighbourhood.
Rosaline, aged 16, said they had a good life, surrounded by soaring peaks and lush green valleys, before the war tore apart the city and they escaped with their lives to Damascus.
“It’s very hard to see what has happened to Syria. We left all our friends and family behind, but it is better to leave because of all the bombing,” she said.
“Only a few days ago I heard that there was a bomb in my school there, and 12 of my friends were injured, one died. My other friend had her leg cut (amputated) by the doctor as a result of her injury. This could have been us if we stayed.”
The family of five were not in Damascus long, before they packed up their belongings and relocated across the border to Lebanon. After a year in Lebanon, they made the far-flung journey to Charlottetown, on Dec. 19, 2017.
At the airport they were reunited with Antoun’s brother, Salim.
“It’s very cold in the winter here, but we’re getting use to it,” said Rosaline, who is settling into Grade 12 at Kinkora Regional High School. She added, “Everyone is very nice, and we are happy to be here.”
Randall Affleck, chairman of the Bedeque and Area Newcomers Relocation Committee, said it’s been a long process, but the family are adjusting well to their new home.
“It all started two years ago when a lot of the Syrian refugee crisis was in the news, and people were coming across the Mediterranean in boats. Canada made the commitment to bring in 25,000 refugees from Syria, so a group of us in Bedeque thought there was no reason why we couldn’t help,” said Affleck.
The group raised $30, 000 to sponsor the Syrian family.
“We did a community sponsorship, which I think is a newer process with immigration, and the Antoun family went through all the medical and security checks in Lebanon. It was just a waiting game more than anything."
He continued, “This Meet and Greet, hosted by the Bedeque Area Newcomers Relocation Committee, is a chance for the community to welcome the Antoun family into the community.”
The old church hall came alive with traditional Syrian music performed on trumpets by 14-year-old twins Nathalie and Remi, and their older sister Rosaline on snare drum.
Affleck acknowledged that people in the area are not new to this type of initiative.
“In the ‘40s we welcomed a Japanese family displaced after the war, and again in the ‘70s we sponsored people from Vietnam."
Amid the coffee, cake and laughter was a haunting picture display from the Zabadani area that showcased the city alive with vendors and restaurants, now shattered.
“The reality is that they had a good life before the war, with a nice backyard and house,” said Affleck. “Zabadani means country of apples, so they had lots of trees. Now it's total devastation.
“I believe if it had been another couple of weeks they could have been killed in that bombing. And it must be extremely difficult for them, because it’s just by luck that we met the family and had the money to sponsor them here,” he concluded.