These Syrian refugees named their son after Justin Trudeau but now, their optimism is fading
CBC Toronto caught up with the Alahmad family a year after first sharing their story
After fleeing war-torn Syria, Hussam Alahmad and his wife Sherin decided to start a new life in Canada. Soon after arriving, they welcomed their second child — a newborn boy with a mop of dark hair — on safe Canadian soil.
The couple named him “Justin,” in honour of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But one year later, the family’s optimism is fading.
The family of four moved from a North York hotel room, found for them by a non-profit case worker, to a one-bedroom apartment in Mississauga. They’re relying primarily on government assistance to scrape enough cash together for food, clothing, and their $1400 per month unit.
Until recently, Alahmad, Sherin and their three-year-old daughter Izdihar were sleeping on the bedroom floor. Now, thanks to a donation, they have a single air mattress.
There’s also a sense of overwhelming loneliness.
Experts say families and individuals in this situation may slip through the cracks — a stark contrast to the welcoming parties and ongoing support offered to thousands of sponsored Syrian refugees.
“I’m lost,” said Alahmad, still the only member of the family who speaks fluent English. “I’m lost now.”
Sitting in his living room in a dark jacket, tie, and pants — from a suit he saved up for over four months — Alahmad said that even after applying for numerous jobs in the automotive sector and elsewhere, he is still unemployed despite having 14 years of experience working at car dealerships in Syria.
Canadian employers, he explained, want Canadian experience.
“That makes me so, so depressed, and so frustrated,” Alahmad said. “If I don’t find this opportunity, how can I [gain] Canadian experience?”
Alahmad really wants to work, both for his own mental health and to support his struggling loved ones including his wife and children in Canada, and his ailing mother in Turkey.
Speaking in Arabic, Sherin said life in Canada is hard. She’s been waiting for a spot in local English language classes for six months, Alahmad said.
“I can’t find my future by myself here,” he added. “We have a lot of obstacles.”
Government data shows that since November 2015, more than 40,000 government or privately sponsored Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada.
“I love Canada, from my heart. I would like to do everything for Canada,” he said. “But I haven’t found the opportunity to start.”