Growing up in Damascus, Syria’s capital, Mohamed remembers bombs exploding around his house, shattering the windows. The final straw, however, was when he finished university and faced conscription into the Syrian army. As a gay man, he knew he would not survive long. And he did not want to participate in the brutal civil war and risk killing innocent civilians. So he fled to Lebanon. But as a refugee, he could not legally work there and had no future. Then he met a Canadian, and dreamed of coming to Canada to start a new life.
Mohamed was sponsored as a refugee by Bathurst United Church, a congregation of 60 parishioners in downtown Toronto, in May 2015. Through their Refugee Sponsorship Committee, the church raised funds to support Mohamed during his first months in the city. The church also helped him settle in Toronto by assisting him with first steps like obtaining a social security number, a health insurance card and opening a bank account. A member of the church refugee committee, Rosalinda Paredes, even offered Mohamed a room in her house since he could not afford the high rents in Toronto.
Ms. Paredes, who works at a legal clinic, is herself a refugee. After being forced to flee Chile after the brutal coup in 1973, she and her family spent a year in Argentina in exile before being recognized as refugees and brought to Canada. She said she will always be grateful to Canada for providing a safe haven for her and her family.
Mohamed is now eager to give back to his adopted country. He is a certified teacher of English as a second language and is a talented linguist, speaking Arabic and Spanish, with a working knowledge of French. He is currently working part-time as an outreach officer for the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson University, helping LGBTI and visible minority students on campus. In his spare time, he volunteers for Lifeline Syria, a group helping to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.
Mohamed says he now feels at home and safe in Toronto. On his morning commute to work, he says, he does not have to worry that the car he is walking by might be booby-trapped with a bomb. As a gay man, he can now legally marry and start a family, something he could not do in Syria. He enjoys exploring Toronto’s multicultural neighbourhoods and restaurants.
“I am so glad our church was able to give this smart young man an opportunity to build a new life,” said Rosalinda. “Now Mohamed can continue his education and live in a country where LGBTQ people can live openly and have equal rights.”
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