“Welcome to Canada” – By Karar Jafar

For the first time in history we have an influx of refugees settling in Canada due to the war crisis occurring in the Middle East. But each person’s story is different and extraordinary offering insight and unique perspective into their lives and how they journeyed to Canada. Here is a remarkable story of Tarek Albeid from Syria who was on student visa in the United States.

“Welcome to Canada” are the first words uttered by police officer who caught Tareq, an 18-year-old crossing the border illegally on foot from United States to Canada. It was a sigh of relief and comfort to hear these words after a traumatizing experience of crossing the border alone at night on foot.

He said, “the taxi driver took me to a nearby city to the Canadian border and he suddenly stopped and pointed towards a dark path and said you are gonna have to walk through it to get to Canada.” Tareq was nervous and fearful as he pleaded to the driver to take him further, but the driver refused.

Tareq took his bags and walked through the unknown dark road. He said, “I was terrified and scared to death and I was on the phone with my mom as I walked through it”.

He finally made it to Canada after a dreadful journey. It was a much-needed respite as he described his pleasant encounter with the border police officer. He said, “the first thing the police officer said to me was welcome to Canada, I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy”. Then the police officer continued to say, “you have crossed the border illegally and now I am going to take you in for questioning”.

Tareq had a big smile on his face as he thought the worst was behind him. Tareq passed through an intense 16-hour interview until which he was granted refugee claimant status, beginning the start of his new life in Canada.

Challenges however did not end there. Tareq began to roam the cities not knowing where to settle and where to seek help. He was in Montréal then he went to Guelph.

Funny story is that I met Tareq in Miami Florida earlier in January 2017 when I was there on vacation, and I was not a settlement worker then. He was leasing a room beside his college and I stayed at the same house he was living in. We even had lunch together – who would have thought that a month later I would be driving Tareq from Guelph to Toronto to help him settle?

He was desperate for help so when I picked him up he was ecstatic to see me. First thing I said when I saw him was “what on earth are you doing here in Canada!”. He began to laugh as he couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. He barely had any winter clothing as he was still adjusting to the cold weather.

On the way back to Toronto stories began to unfold and he told me about everything. I asked him what led him to make such a drastic decision to cross to Canada. He said after Trump’s ban he was uncertain about the future. He was fearful that after his student visa expires he wouldn’t be able to renew it and they would send him back to Saudi Arabia where his family was staying. So he consulted his mother and arrived to the conclusion that he had to come to Canada.

When arrived to Toronto that day the number one thing on my mind was to find shelter for Tareq where he could stay in for the night. I contacted friends but no one had a room. I called all the youth shelters and they were all full due to extreme cold weather. This proved to be the most difficult task I have come across.

By night we found a Church on Yonge St where it was housing beds for homeless people from 9:00PM to 8:00AM. I was so worried about him, but the staff at the shelter were very friendly and compassionate. They even offered him a jacket, winter clothes, food and money after learning that he is a young man who recently came to Canada.

I contacted all the people I knew, but to no avail. After it reached mid-night I was feeling despondent, until a friend of mine contacted me about an Iranian family he knew who lived in Thornhill and who had an available basement. I rushed to call them and explained the situation. They were quick to welcome Tareq to their home with open arms.

The following morning, I picked up Tareq from the church and drove him to Thornhill where the family lived. We ate breakfast together and they immediately sympathized with Tareq, because they sheltered an Iraqi family in their basement before and they know the struggle refugees face when they first arrive to Canada. They were new immigrants themselves and understand how it feels.

They sheltered Tareq for a few weeks. During these days Tareq told me that they treated him like their own son. They made food for him, gave him clothes, drove him to his appointments and they even took him out skiing to Blue Mountain where he experienced what it is like to fall in the snow for the first time in his life.

I tried to find a one-bedroom basement that is affordable for Tareq, but was not able to. Eventually when Tareq did find a basement the family was emotional and couldn’t let him go as they had become attached to him and wanted to help him more. They offered to rent out their basement to him for a very affordable price in which he gladly accepted.

Tareq was very quick on his feet and in few weeks, he was able to establish himself. He registered for high school where he was able to take ESL classes. He sought my help to get him an immigration lawyer where he applied for his permanent residence and got an early acceptance before a court date and finally landed a part time job. Tareq is very ambitious and goal driven and now he wants to pursue his education in aviation at Seneca college.

It is a captivating story that I had to share with the world -but what is more extraordinary is all the people who helped, from the police officer, to the church staff and finally the Iranian family who embraced Tareq into their home. These events show the kind of people we are and can be as a society and our shared sense of responsibility towards helping others. I truly feel proud to be Canadian.