Different day, different life


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November 19, 2015 11:44 AM

Christine Aalbers, chairperson of the parish council at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, has been in contact with the Bittar family and will be one of the people helping them adjust to a new life in Canada.

Strian family awaits new home in Lloydminster

A Syrian family is getting closer to finally finding some refuge here in the Border City.
The Good Samaritans at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church has agreed to help a refugee family of four that have been living in Lebanon for the last three years, after escaping bombs and other violence in their home country of Syria. 
The family — Adel Bittar, his wife Rana and their two children, Sama and Naim — might arrive as early as the year’s end, but will definitely have their feet planted on Canadian soil by March 2016.
“Knowing that we are welcome in Canada and many people are acting in solidarity with our case, spending their time and resources to help us, is giving us a wonderful feeling that humanity still matters,” said Bittar in an interview with local media last September.
Bittar said the family’s home city of Aleppo, Syria was the last city in the country where fights broke out, and while they kept tabs on hostility in other areas of the country, they didn’t think the violence would move that close to them. 
As fighting closed in though, Aleppo seemed to get smaller and smaller until safety was confined to just a few streets around their home.
Travelling out of the city by car became impossible and regular services, like fuel and water, stopped being maintained.
Power outages and explosions became the norm and the Bittars simply didn’t feel safe anymore.
“Safety was the most difficult issue, we were hearing explosions and seeing smoke but never knew where it was,” said Bittar.
“The kids were going to school and we’d pray until they came back safe. We’d panic and call everyone to make sure they were fine after we’d hear explosions or shooting.”
The situation only got worse until one sleepless night they heard the “terrifying” noise of the air force flying over their home, bombing areas of the city.
Bittar and his wife looked at each other and tried to sort through the dangers of bringing their family to the airport the next morning.
Neither of them knew where the fights were taking place and the threat of being kidnapped or murdered on the way was a real concern
The family decided to put their fate in God’s hands, Bittar said, and the next morning they got into a taxi amid the sounds of gunshots and more explosions.
“We went in the taxi and were shocked by the scenes, they were very close to our residence,” he said,
“In just a few minutes we could see horrible scenes: armed people, buses and cars on fire, destroyed buildings, even garbage was not collected for weeks.”
They were stopped at three checkpoints during the cab ride to the airport, where armed militants took their IDs and barraged them with questions about what they were doing and where they were going.
After a few moments of panic and praying, which Bittar said felt like years, they were let through and eventually made it to their destination.
From there they fled to Lebanon where neither Bittar nor his wife are allowed to have jobs because Syrians aren’t allowed to work in the country.
They had to sign official papers stating that they wouldn’t work as a condition to extend their visa, common to new laws and regulations designed to make it difficult for Syrians to stay in the county.
“Of course we do not have any health insurance, we are spending our savings basically and getting some support from charities.”
They believed their self-imposed exile would be brief and thought they would be able to return home from Lebanon after six months, or no more than a year.
“We had to extend our stay, we did not plan financially and logistically for this stay. We felt lost, we needed a place to stay, schools and income.”
The unrest in Syria has only increased since the family’s escape and they’ve been staying in Lebanon for three years now, with help from some friends and a church organization, called Focolare, that gives refugees temporary lodging and helps them find safer places to live.
Luckily a couple in Edmonton, friends of the Bittars, contacted Catholic Social Services (CSS) to explain the situation.
Now, with the help of CSS and St. Anthony’s Church, the Bittar family is scheduled to come to Canada where they can integrate into society and live safely.
Christine Aalbers, chairmen of the parish council at St. Anthony’s, has been in contact with the Bittars and is one of the people who will help them adjust to life in a new country.
“They haven’t been able to return home for the past three years and they won’t ever be able to go back to Syria, so they are considered refugees and they will be coming to Canada,” she said.
“They’ve left their country because of the persecution; they’re looking for a place to call home.”
When they eventually make it to Lloydminster, St. Anthony’s will be responsible for providing them with accommodations the first year, which totals upwards of $30,000.
That is money the church has to raise on its own.
Aalbers said they’ll also help the family get set up with necessities, like health insurance and drivers licenses, to make their landing as smooth as possible.
So far the response from St. Anthony’s congregation has been positive, with people having already offered donations and shown generosity while they wait for the family to arrive.
“We have all of the housing furnishings we need already because people have donated them, so there are some really neat things happening in the community,” said Aalbers.
“Our community is so generous.”
Bittar describes moving to Canada as his family’s “salvation” as they are looking for safety, respect, equality and stability.
They want a good place to raise their kids so they can study, grow up and be happy, while Mr. and Mrs. Bittar find work and start fresh careers.
“My wife and I always wonder when we will be able to help people as we are helped now. When we will be able to give as we are taking now. We thank everyone working for us. They are all in our prayers and hearts.”
If all goes well and the people at St. Anthony’s are able to do some more fundraising, Aalbers said they will look into helping more families find permanent refuge in the community.

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