KITCHENER-WATERLOO, Ont.—Maha Al Samaneh, 14, has dreams of being a teacher and some of her younger siblings envision careers as a physician, lawyer, engineer and pilot.
The eight children and their parents, Saleh and Maysoun Al Samaneh, are Palestinian refugees from Iraq rebuilding their lives in Canada through Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) refugee assistance program.
“Our children’s dreams will come true,” said their father Saleh. “In Canada, everybody who works hard has an opportunity for their dreams to come true.”
After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Palestinians in Iraq became targets for violence and many fled Iraq.
Facing death threats and kidnapping threats, the Al Samaneh family fled in 2006 hoping to find safety in Jordan because Maysoun is a Jordanian citizen. When they arrived at the border they were told that only Maysoun could enter the country. “Even though my mom and dad live in Jordan I said I would stay with my husband and kids,” she said.
Fifty days after arriving at the border they were allowed to move to the Al Hol refugee camp in Syria near the Iraq border where they were stranded until August 2010 when they left for their new home in Ontario.
More than 230 Palestinian refugees from the Al Hol refugee camp have resettled in Canada in recent years through the federal government’s private sponsorship program, said Ed Wiebe, the national coordinator of MCC’s refugee assistance program. Almost 50 per cent of the people have been resettled by Mennonite churches and community groups through MCC’s program.
In response to the urgent need to resettle more Palestinian refugees who cannot return to their homes in Iraq, MCC is now looking for more churches and groups to sponsor families from the Al Hol camp who are eligible for resettlement in Canada.
Congregations and groups in Ontario, through MCC, have already sponsored 66 people from the Al Hol camp, said Moses Moini, coordinator of MCC Ontario’s refugee assistance program.
Moini came to Canada in 1992 as a refugee from Sudan and understands the traumatic journey of fleeing persecution and the dreams for hope and healing in a new country. “When a decision is made here to sponsor a family it is an answer to the prayers of someone in a refugee camp,” said Moini.
He helped form an ad hoc task force to coordinate the activities of nine sponsorship groups helping Palestinian refugees resettle in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, North Leamington and Toronto. These sponsoring groups involve 13 Mennonite congregations and three non-Mennonite congregations that work closely with Muslim social service agencies and local Palestinian communities that provide settlement support.
“The benefits of working together are immense, “said Moini. “We are able to pool our resources and build our capacity to help us integrate our Palestinian brothers and sisters into Canadian society. Through these partnerships we are getting to know each other better and developing a sense of oneness in diversity.”
The Al Samaneh family is sponsored by the Trinity United Church of Kitchener in partnership with the Erb Street Mennonite Church in Waterloo and receive settlement support from Kitchener-Waterloo Muslim Social Services and the local Palestinian community.
“The best surprise for me is that Canadians are very welcoming,” said Maysoun. “I really like our sponsoring group. They always do nice things for us. I think of them as my family.”
Visit mcccanada.ca/refugee to learn more about MCC’s refugee assistance program.