For most people, stepping off of a plane brings nothing more than another step on your way to your destination.
For the Iraq born Al-Sammarraid family, stepping off a plane in Calgary meant a step closer to their new home in Canada.
Having spent the last number of years fleeing from war in Iraq and then onto Syria, a country that was then on the brink of a civil war, they long awaited the moment they would hear that they had been accepted as refugees.
After a demanding application process and months of waiting to hear from the United Nations, the news came they were to be placed in Canada. After arriving in Calgary, they made their way to Red Deer where they were to rebuild their lives once more.
For the Al-Sammarraid family, the road to Red Deer was one filled with turmoil and uncertainty.
Life in Baghdad meant living in constant fear. As the situation in Iraq gradually worsened there were no schools for the children for periods of time and poor living conditions. “There was no electricity, no water, no communication, no food,” recalls Raad, father of the family.
“I remember only the cats and the dogs out on the streets looking around for food also just as we were. It was a city of ghosts. You could hear everything – even the ants.”
Mother Ayam Al Dulaiami recalls the sound of tanks echoing throughout the empty streets as they rolled by the glassless windows of the homes shattered from explosions. The city was also ravaged by a civil war with an American presence thrown in between two groups of Iraq factions.
Frightened by bombings from both the ground as well as the sky, families were forced to flee north as the violence spread up from the south.
“The troops would come from southern Iraq and go up through the northern cities. Since we lived in southern Baghdad, we knew they would be coming,” said son Annas, 26. “We moved north and waited until we had heard that our city had been bombed. Then we would go back to the city that had already been bombed because you could call it ‘safe’ now.”
With the country in chaos, civilians were left in an state of lawlessness and rebel groups were distributed throughout Baghdad. In hopes of obtaining visas for his wife and children, Raad went to Cairo where we worked but was unable to be approved as Egypt stopped accepting Iraqi people.
Mother and son remained in Baghdad where they feared for their lives.
“I was scared for my sons,” said Ayam. “And after they tried to kidnap my son I had enough.”
As Annas was returning from class at university, the taxi he was in came across one of the many checkpoints that plagued the country. “The militants at the fake check points would wear the official government uniforms and had the vehicles but I was not sure if it was for real,” he said. “So they looked at my papers and the guy who was in charge of the checkpoint held onto them and wouldn’t let them go.”
As the man in charge of the check point refused to let the taxi driver take him, they insisted he get out of the vehicle. He knew he had no other choice but to comply so he went with the men.
As the vehicle he was in with the fake government officials inched a few feet further he saw an American convoy of three military vehicles approaching. “They were afraid of the American military police because they knew they would be in trouble because they did not have any paper work,” said Annas. “So they kicked me out of the car and left. I was lucky I guess.”
Ayam then packed up her sons and began the 16-hour drive to Syria, where they drove all day and night to reach the border.
Along the way they faced many more of the same check points as the one that had threatened Annas’ life.
Upon reaching the Syrian border, they found it to be closed because it was night time. They waited in the car huddled beneath blankets for warmth until the morning came and they crossed the border to Syria.
There they would live in a one bedroom apartment, until the day that they received the phone call that would tell them they were to come to Canada.
As they have settled in Red Deer, they have made new friends and began the process to rebuild a life shattered by warfare.
The youngest their sons, Al-Hassan, 17, now attends Lindsey Thurber Comprehensive High School where he plays football and another attends Red Deer College where he plans to study biology.
They all volunteer with C.A.R.E (Central Alberta Refugee Effort). They are very thankful for the help they received from the organization when arriving in Canada.
“I get to meet new friends by volunteering. That was a huge thing for me and its made a big difference in my life,” said Al-Hassan on the importance of volunteering to him.
Meanwhile, they will be celebrating their second year anniversary being in Canada this summer.
For Ayam, coming to Canada meant that she could go to sleep at night and not worry about her children. “I finally got to know myself here because you finally have time to think and find out who you are.
“You no longer have to wake up in the morning and worry about how you are going to survive.”