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I am thankful and grateful to all who live here, for everything that I have here. Halifax has good people, kind people. We live simply and safely.”
- Jalaa Ali
Jalaa Ali had held out hope he’d wind up here while enduring years of strife at a refugee camp in Jordan.
“It was very hard,” recalled the father of three young children. “Very little electricity, water, food.”
This was also the reality for his family who joined him there four-and-a half years after being forced to leave their home in war-torn Syria.
The Alis have called Nova Scotia home for over two years. Ali, who has witnessed homes and schools being bombed, says there’s not a day that goes by that he’s not grateful for what this province and country has given him.
“For me, this is about my wife and children,” said Ali, 42, shortly before heading off to an English class on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax.
“They are safe now. We are lucky and I am lucky to live in Halifax. I am thankful and grateful to all who live here, for everything that I have here. Halifax has good people, kind people. We live simply and safely.”
Ali walks with a pronounced limp, a consequence of having two prosthetic legs. Twenty-six years ago he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. He considers himself lucky to have survived the near-death experience.
“It could be worse,” he said with a laugh.
Point of empowerment
"Before coming here I spoke to my uncle who’s a doctor in Dubai and he told me Canada is a great country with very kind people. That’s turned out to be true."
- Jalaa Ali
He’s among the 52,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada between October 2015 and February 2018. He’s a few weeks away from hitting a long-term goal in his English studies. In order to become a Canadian Citizen, he must speak and comprehend at Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) Level 4.
The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) has provided the training. The group has been his family’s main support since arriving in Halifax.
“I owe everything to them because they’ve made us feel welcome and helped us survive in a completely new country,” he said.
He’s anticipating that early in the new year he’ll attain his citizenship and a job will follow suit. Back in Syria, he owned a shop selling kitchen supplies.
Marwa Salem, an ISANS settlement counsellor, has worked closely with Ali and his family since their arrival. She says he’s been as an inspiration to her.
“What I found with Jalaa was that he was really independent from the first day he came over,” said Salem. “He didn’t have the language but he was trying. It was a point of empowerment that he wanted to do things on his own.
“The level of his language has really improved. He can speak in full sentences, he can communicate with others with no barriers.”
Often ISANS serves as a kind of lifeline to new immigrants and refugees to the province, providing a foundation for families to build a new life.
“Sometimes they lose their confidence and our role is just to bring that confidence back while we’re working together,” said Salem.
New immigrants extension of Canadian history
"My country is at war and other countries around us are at war. It’s the most important thing that my kids live safe."
- Jalaa Ali
Sara Espinal Henao, a Halifax immigration lawyer, says Ali’s story of resilience is something Nova Scotia and Canada, a country of immigrants, should celebrate.
“Multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity are part of our identity, of who we are as a nation,” said Espinal Henao. “This is something that sets us apart from other countries, especially today. Welcoming refugees is honouring that identity and living up to the values we stand for as Canadians.
“Many of these people that we welcome come with valuable skills, experience, and education. They are eager to become productive members of society and give back to the country that received them. ... These families also bring with them a new generation of Canadians who will boost Canada’s population, integrating further into our society and contributing to our economy for years to come.”
For Ali, he’s facing the future with optimism.
“I will work hard to have a good life here, for me and my family. Before coming here I spoke to my uncle who’s a doctor in Dubai and he told me Canada is a great country with very kind people.
“That’s turned out to be true. It’s also a very safe country. My country is at war and other countries around us are at war. It’s the most important thing that my kids live safe.”