Syrian refugees arrive at YVR, describe atrocities they've encountered

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More Syrian refugees arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday after a long journey through several countries and cities and a year-long wait.

Aline Majarian arrived with her husband, Viken, and their two children, Haig, 8, and Karni, 4. They were weary as they made their way through the arrival gate after a flight from Lebanon to Jordan to Toronto and then finally Vancouver. They hail from Aleppo, one of the most war-torn cities in Syria.

Image: IKEA / Shutterstock

SEE ALSO: IKEA to donate $180,000 in furniture to Syrian refugees in Canada

“As the rockets fall down…you just wait in the basement for a light at the end of the tunnel – it’s not easy,” Aline said through tears to a media scrum.

“The most important thing is [our children’s] future. We were thinking about their future – how they will survive there. We were just saying ‘it will end, it will end’, but it didn’t. It was four years, four long years – it was just a whole century for us.”

Aline and Viken are both working professionals. She’s a civil engineer, while he’s a dentist. They arrived with only a few things and are starting over.

“We have our future, we have our family, we have our health – that’s the most important thing. We can start from scratch. It’s not easy, but we have to,” said Aline.

The Majarian family, along with close to 90 other Syrian refugees are being sponsored privately by the St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in Richmond. The congregation of 300 people are footing the majority of the bill and many have opened up their homes to the displaced people.

This group is not included in the 25,000 government sponsored refugees that are expected to arrive in Canada by the end of February of 2016.

Image: United Nations

SEE ALSO: City of Vancouver supports donation campaign for Syrian refugees

Several of the families have already arrived since August, and the church is expecting a large percentage of the remaining people to arrive over the next few weeks, starting with the Majarians.

Father Hrant Tahanian with the St. Gregory Armenian Church told Vancity Buzz his congregation was compelled to help refugees for two reasons: one, it’s a humanitarian issue, and two, there’s a large Armenian community in Syria.

“What’s most interesting about the Armenians in Syria is that they arrived there as refugees initially,” he said.

“1.5 million [Armenians] perished, but a few hundred thousand survived, and they fled and established in the Middle East, mainly in Syria and Lebanon.”

The extreme death toll of Armenians was the result of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 – the Ottoman Empire’s attempt at wiping them out from their native land that lies within present-day Turkey.

As a result of the turmoil, Armenians understand how difficult it is to be refugees, according to Father Hrant. The church started sending funds to Syria around the time the war broke out in 2011, but when it became clear it wasn’t going to end after two years, they took steps to create more permanent measures.

St. Gregory Church member Mari Minasyan was at YVR to welcome the Majarians and other refugee families arriving on other flights. Minasyan herself is sponsoring a refugee family – her mother, and her brother and his family. She said they’re settling in, despite some rough patches.

“They are settling slowly because they have language barriers. So they’re now focused on taking classes to see what they can do here,” she told Vancity Buzz.

Minasyan herself has been in Canada for 10 years, and her family is grateful to be living here.

“They’re thankful to be able to start a new life in a peaceful place.”

For their part, Aline and her family are excited to be spending their first Christmas in Vancouver.

“It’s like a dream come true,” she said.

If you want to donate to help the church support the influx of private refugees, click here.

Syrian refugee family arrives at Vancouver International Airport“We have our future, we have our family, we have our health – that’s the most important thing. We can start from scratch. It’s not easy, but we have to.” #WelcomeRefugees

Posted by Vancity Buzz on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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Lauren Sundstrom Lauren is a Staff Writer and Projects Assistant at Vancity Buzz. She is a graduate of BCIT's Broadcast and Online Journalism program. She loves reporting on breaking news and lifestyle content. If you feel like you have a story that needs to be told, fire her a tweet.
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