Top 10 stories of 2016: Kelowna’s Syrian population expands

When Canada welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees to the country, Kelowna became home to more than 100. That story is among our Top 10.

  • Dec. 28, 2016 6:00 p.m.

Kelowna's growing Syrian population is one of our top 10 stories of they year

Kelowna residents were quick to welcome the Syrian refugees accepted into Canada in the early months of 2016.

Following through with an election promise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government opened the borders to 25,000 refugees and 100-plus of those men, women and children were calling the Central Okanagan home  by February.

Some families were government sponsored, while others were part of a smaller, more personalized model. Regardless, their arrival has challenged, changed and ultimately rewarded this community.

One of the families first to arrive in Kelowna were the Shahouds, from Homse, Syria.

The Central Okanagan Refugee Committee sponsored Mohammed, Sara and the youngest five of their 11 children to come from Jordan, where they were seeking safety.

One of their older children, along with their own family, has since arrived in Canada.

In Syria, the family owned a business and had a large house. All was lost after their escape.

Now life is much smaller, albeit safer. Mohammed had a part-time job when he first arrived in Kelowna, but that ended and he’s now taking some programming that will help him be more employable in the future.

“Everything is good,” Mohammed said, during an April event where refugee families met up for a potluck dinner and some social time. “We adapted quickly because we found good people, a good community and very good friends.”

Sara, his wife, offered a similar view of their experiences in Kelowna.

“Most people have been very nice,” she said, using the services of translator, Ehab Ghanem.

“Especially the sponsor families…We can see this being our home (for the longer run), if this is God’s will.”

Hearing people who have suffered inconceivable indignities in just the last few years express thanks to the community that welcomed them wasn’t new to translator,  Ghanem. He is Egyptian and one of a handful of Arabic speaking residents of the Okanagan who volunteer to translate for the Syrians who were moving to the valley.

“At first they are afraid of the past and afraid of the future,” Ghanem said. The war killed more than 250,000 people across Syria and forced at least 10 million to flee.

What he found surprising was the perception Syrians held of their new country,

“I hear this almost every time…some people thought when (Justin) Trudeau said, ‘We will welcome Syrians,’ that it was an order, not something that was truly coming from the people,” Ghanem said.

“They are shocked that people here are good by themselves and don’t need to be ordered to do something. It makes these guys want to return the favour, but they don’t know how yet.”

Just Posted

Rock slide forces rural Keremeos residents to leave their homes

Witness describes boulders bigger than her car

UPDATE: Destructive blaze in West Kelowna

A unit of a condo complex is on fire in West Kelowna

Okanagan College to develop wellness strategy for drug use

The Kelowna campus has 28 employees trained in the use of naloxone.

BREAKING: Highway 3 near Keremeos closed due to rockslide

Highway 3 just west of Keremeos is closed as of 8:44 p.m.… Continue reading

Black Mountain Cub Crawl returns to Kelowna

Its the 3rd year of the obstacle course fundraiser

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Pet Planet picks up Okanagan’s cannabis for pets

True Leaf Medicine International expands retail distribution to 3,500 stores worldwide

AquaVan comes to Okanagan Science Centre

200-litre mobile touch tank allows you to get up-close with marine invertebrates

Army of support behind Black Press saleswoman battling cancer

GoFundMe helps empower Sue Folliott’s fight

Boy who went missing from park remains largest probe in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

Protective human chain forms around B.C. mosque for Friday prayer

Vancouver Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

Most Read