We Were Strangers in a Strange Land

Let's Work together to Bring A Syrian Refugee Family to Safety in Victoria

The E______ Family

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Sima, Mira, and Anna Rose at the mall

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Sima, Mira, and Anna Rose at play

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Rim and her daughters

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Mohammed and his daughters

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"My family thankfully got out of Germany in time in the 1930s. This feels like a very important opportunity for me to pass on the support my then thirteen year old father, my grandparents and my aunt Ruth received, in order to arrive safely in London and start their new lives. Without that crucial assistance, my brothers, cousins and I might never have been born. My dad and aunt together now have almost 100 living descendants.”
Robert Oppenheimer, Refugee Family Committee Chair
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Introduction
This family of five – Mohammad & Rim E______, and their daughters Sima (6), Mira (5), and Anna Rose (3) – are UN-registered refugees currently living somewhere in southeast Asia.  Conditions for refugees are not great as you can imagine, and you will be able to learn from the attached family bios and pictures.
So far, as a result of the efforts of a small team, the family will hopefully be included in the Victoria Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) application process for the 2022 Canadian government quota of sponsored refugee families. This will be the second family that Congregation Emanu-El has supported in this way.
We'll need to raise a minimum of $40,000, being the cost for sponsorship through the Canadian government, which must be deposited with ICA, prior to final approval of the sponsorship application.  In addition, significant other expenses always come up. Any monies sent to cover immediate expenses while the family is still in southeast Asia, will need to be sent directly to the family there, and would not be tax deductible in Canada.  If you want to help, please contact the team at the email address below.
Committee chair Robert Oppenheimer notes:"My family thankfully got out of Germany in time in the 1930s. This feels like a very important opportunity for me to pass on the support my then thirteen year old father, my grandparents and my aunt Ruth received, in order to arrive safely in London and start their new lives. Without that crucial assistance, my brothers, cousins and I might never have been born. My dad and aunt together now have almost 100 living descendants.”
  • We will be most grateful for any help you can give to enable us to bring the E______s to safety in Canada.  
  • In addition to donations, we are also looking for folks who would be willing to help the team work on the completion of government paperwork, fundraising and eventually with  practical help the family will need, on their arrival in Victoria.
  • We are also looking for another four or five members to complete the required sponsorship team.  
To follow up on these possibilities or have any other questions the refugee project team can be reached via email at CEE.Refugee@gmail.com
We are reaching out to other local faith communities, as there is a lot of expertise locally, numerous families in Victoria having already been through this process. Even though ICA expect this will be several years away, we cannot wait to meet this courageous young family, as they exit the airport at Victoria International.
Tax-deductible donations (for Canadian donors only) can be made to the Refugee Family Fund through the donation button below, by phoning the synagogue office at 250-382-0615  or by snail mail to: Congregation Emanu-El, 1461 Blanshard St., Victoria BC V8W 2J3
Please ensure "Refugee Family T82" is in the memo line of any cheque you write.
If there are funds left over at the end of this process, they will be given to the ICA Refugee Fund.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Mohammad
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My name is Mohammad. I came southeast Asia in July, 2017, to escape the war in Syria. I feared for my life and that of my wife, Rim H_____, and my two girls, Sima—who was two years old at the time—and Mira, who was just an infant back then. The situation had deteriorated so much that we did not even feel safe at home. In fact, in 2015, I was injured by shrapnel after a projectile landed next to our house. Thankfully, Rim and the girls were not harmed, but I lost much of my hearing after one of my eardrums was ruptured, and I also sustained injuries to my hands, back, head, and belly. Furthermore, I worried that maybe the next time, we would not be quite so lucky.
We were also struggling financially. Because of the economic realities of the war, I could not see a future for my growing family, and worried about how to take care of them. I had always dreamed of being a lawyer. I was studying law at a Syrian university, but it became so dangerous to travel even short distances that I could not go to classes and had to interrupt my studies indefinitely. I was desperate to make ends meet and to give my loved ones some physical and economic safety, but I didn’t know what life outside of Syria would be like. I didn’t want to put Rim, who was pregnant at the time, or the girls at risk. After much hesitation, I left the country on my own and went to southeast Asia because it was one of the few areas where Syrians could travel without a visa.
When I got to southeast Asia, I found a small room to share with a friend. I missed the birth of my third daughter, Anna Rose, but I thought that the sacrifice would be worth it if I could find a safe place to raise our children. Life in southeast Asia was difficult, but the situation in Syria had deteriorated, so once Rim was strong enough to travel, she and the girls joined me in southeast Asia. First, we shared a house with another family, but it was too crowded, so my aunt sent me a little money for us to rent an apartment for just the five of us. We are grateful to have our own place, but worried about the kids’ health because water from the neighbour’s toilet constantly leaks into our apartment from the roof. We have to collect it in buckets so that it doesn’t contaminate the floors or walls, especially because Anna Rose, our youngest, crawls everywhere.
Sometimes, I get discouraged. I had hoped to give my family a better life by coming to southeast Asia. I had wanted to be a solid provider, give the girls a happy childhood like the one I had, deepen my relationship with my wife, and maybe, eventually, pursue my own dreams. The reality, however, is very different. I try to remember that we are alive and together, even if we are far from loved ones, that not everyone is as lucky as we are. Still, I want more for my family than this constant struggle for survival. I worry that, instead of improving our lives, I took my family from one precarious situation to another.
Financially, we don’t have very much. The girls are not able to go to public school because of our immigration status, and we cannot afford the expensive, private schools in southeast Asia. My wife has a master’s degree in education, so she does what she can to teach the girls, but they are behind academically and isolated from other kids their age. Legally, I am not allowed to work in southeast Asia, but I do odd jobs here and there. Mostly, I fix cars, and am quite good at operating heavy machinery. Before the war, my father had a construction and construction supplies business. I am trying to be more like my father and use the many skills he taught me, so that I can become the provider that he was for us. Perhaps one day I will continue my studies in law, but mostly, I want the girls to be able to go to school and my wife to have some comfort and room to dream.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Rim
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"Rim and the girls joined me in southeast Asia in April 2018. Learning is very important to her. She persisted in her studies even when Homs, the city where she finished her undergraduate degree, was under attack. She continued taking classes and completed a certification in computer literacy, after completing her master’s degree in education. Because of her commitment to learning, it has been especially frustrating for her to not be able to enroll the girls in school. She tried to volunteer as a teacher in some of the Arabic-language schools, hoping that these institutions would then allow Sima and Mira to take classes, but no one seemed open to the idea. At one point, she also tried to work at a beauty parlour to help our financial situation, but the legal restrictions and the fact that we cannot leave the girls alone at home thwarted this option. Rim is very loving and devoted to us, but I know that she feels isolated in southeast Asia. She studied French in Syria but has very little knowledge of English—which is widely used in southeast Asia—and neither of us speaks the local language. The language barrier prevents her from making friends and helping the girls prepare for school, though thankfully she has started to take free English classes offered by the United Nations.
"Rim is always busy raising the kids and taking care of the household. She loves to cook and to teach the children, but she tells me that she is lonely and isolated. We found out a while back ago that she is pregnant, which increases her anxieties—and mine. It also makes her miss her family more. Her father passed away when she was young, and her brother died in the war, which has made the rest of the family become even closer than they were before these tragedies. To make matters worse, Rim’s mother has serious health issues, and it has been excruciating for Rim to be unable to see or care for her while she has undergone serious procedures, including heart surgery. There is also the guilt and constant anxiety of being away from loved ones while a war is taking place and mourning in a country where no one knows you.
"Rim wants our kids to love school the way she does, to guide them through their education, and to continue learning new things herself. I hope we can find a safe, supportive environment for her and the girls to be able to do just that."
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Sima
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"Sima was born in December, 2014, but, because of the war, I could not register her birth officially until a few months later, so her papers say that she was born in February 2015. Sima is smart and hardworking, but we are concerned that she cannot reach her full potential because she has not received proper schooling. She is also a child who loves people and who started life surrounded by the love and attention of a big family but cannot receive the attention she craves due to the isolation in which we find ourselves. In Syria, she could not go to daycare or pre-school because of the war and the constant moving around to find a safe haven. We thought things would be different in southeast Asia, but here the United Nations does not have an educational program for pre-school aged children, and we did not have the financial means to enroll her in a private facility. Finally, when she became old enough to go to the school sponsored by the United Nations, she was not in the right age bracket because her official documents had the wrong birth date, and we were told to wait another year.
"Once she finally qualified, the UN school was not accepting any more students because of COVID. She lost another year of learning from teachers and being with children her age. We enrolled her in an Iraqi private school, but quickly realized that the money we had worked so hard to collect would only cover the cost of registration. We could not afford tuition, so she was not able to attend. We were able to receive the books used by the school because they were covered by the registration fee we had paid, so Rim and I have been using them to teach Sima. Her English is not perfect, but ours isn’t either, so we try to learn together by watching YouTube videos and encouraging her to learn children’s songs. She loves learning interactively and to make her own videos. She even says that she wants to have her own YouTube channel someday. She is very expressive and outgoing and has never met a stranger. Sima also loves to draw, swim, and wear dresses. Her favorite colour is blue, and favorite foods are pasta, fruit, and treats from McDonalds."
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Mira
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"Mira (or Mira al-Amira – Mira the Princess) was born in May, 2016, but we were not able to officially register her birth until January the following year. Out of all of the girls, Mira seems to have been the most deeply affected by the violence she witnessed in Syria. She was especially sensitive to the sounds of war. She feared strangers, cars, and even in southeast Asia, she would cry at the sound of thunder, and would hide, fearing an explosion. She had night terrors. It took her almost a year to understand that the sound of thunder meant only rain. Developmentally, this has impacted her ability to communicate verbally: she took a long time to speak and still struggles to do so clearly, especially with new people, but she has improved with our help and that of her sister Sima. We had hoped that preschool would help her improve her speaking skills and overcome her fear of people, but we cannot afford the private schools that are available to children her age. COVID restrictions have also meant that she and her sister cannot make friends. This has made them very close: they spend every waking moment together and are each other’s primary companions, but we want them to have other kids their age with whom to interact.
Unlike her sister Sima, who is very social and verbal, Mira is athletic and expresses herself through movement. She is physically very coordinated, loves sports and dance, and prefers to be outside rather than to play video games or watch TV. She thrives when she is engaged in physical activity and engages best with others through active and creative play rather than conversation. For instance, she likes to do her mom and sisters’ makeup and hair and expresses her affection towards them this way. She loves riding the bicycle she shares with her sisters. She likes vegetarian food, pasta, and juice.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Anna Rose
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Anna Rose was born in January, 2018. When she came to southeast Asia, she was two months old, and now she is three and a half. She has no memories of Syria at all. She is a very smart, precocious child: a “handful,” as they say in English. She is mischievous and likes to take things apart. In fact, I would not be surprised if I found her one day opening up the television, just to see how it works. Maybe she has a future in engineering or as a mechanic. She also likes to climb things. We have to watch her all the time!
Anna Rose’s personality most closely resembles Mira’s. She is athletic and coordinated, enjoys games that involve movement. She is reserved, but not meek. Like her sisters, she deserves the opportunity to have a childhood where she can explore, have friends, and have a life beyond the confines of our small apartment.