Syrian refugee's move to B.C. 'the best thing' that ever happened to him
Published Monday, December 12, 2016 4:31PM PST
A Syrian refugee calls his move to Metro Vancouver "the best thing" that ever happened to him, but after two years in Canada, he's still waiting to be reunited with his family.
Mohammed Alsaleh, 26, has had a busy couple years since coming into the country in late 2014. He served as an interpreter for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited British Columbia, helping to translate for the refugees they met. He also met the prime minister twice.
"Moving to Canada is the best thing that has ever happened to me," he told CTV News on Sunday.
Alsaleh fled Syria after spending 120 days in prison, arrested for speaking out publicly and on social media against human rights violations in his homeland.
Evidence of what he calls "relentless torture" is still visible in the scars on his body. He showed the scars on his feet to CTV News, saying they were the result of beatings while imprisoned.
When he was released, he left everything he knew, and fled.
"Canadians have healed my wounds and have helped me start over and have a new life," he said.
But there's something missing from his new life: his family. His four siblings and mother were scattered by the civil war, spreading them across three countries.
Alsaleh goes online several times a day to check the status of their refugee applications – requests for them to be moved from Turkey and Germany to Canada – but he said the process is "taking forever."
Last year, he met Deanna Brynildsen, a New Westminster woman who'd heard his story and wanted to help.
Brynildsen said she was touched by the part of his story she'd read where he said he would need five Canadians to sponsor his five family members, but that he didn't even know five people.
"I thought, 'Well, I can do that. I know a lot of Canadians,'" she said.
"I felt like I really needed to do something."
She said she "felt compelled" to try to help bring his family to safety, so they set up an online fundraising campaign.
"I said, 'If it doesn't work, we tried something, but what if it does work? Won't that just be a fantastic thing?'"
And the site did work. They raised the $30,000 required in just 20 days, she said.
The Canadian government requires that private sponsors raise at least $30,000 to provide food, shelter and emotional and social support for the family to get them through their first year. In a message on the page, she said she asked if Alsaleh thought that would be enough.
"He said that even if they had to sleep on the floor in one room, if they were together and had running water and a toilet that flushed, and they felt safe and no longer had to fear for their lives, he would be the happiest man in the world."
Brynildsen said the money has been raised, but his family is still waiting for their applications to be processed. Alsaleh had hoped they'd be here for Christmas, but their future remains uncertain.
"It's heartbreaking," she said. When she put up her Christmas tree last year, she'd said that she hoped Alsaleh's little sister would be there to help her decorate this year.
"It's so sad because I see how hard it is for Mohammed for his family not to be here, and the process is just dragging on."
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Michele Brunoro