Syrian family
Photo submitted by Trudy Dueck

Most of the Jarkas family arrived in Canada last year, but the eldest son just arrived in June. They are living in Arborg, Manitoba. Back row, left to right: Zozan Jarkas (grade 10), Lilaf Jarkas (kindergarten), Zainab Jarkas, Jamil Jarkas (18 years old), Ahmed Jarkas, Mohammed Jarkas (grade 9). Front: Dlyar Jarkas (grade 2), Diyar Jarkas (grade 6).

More than a year ago, Zainab and Ahmed Jarkas made the impossible decision to leave their teenage son, Jamil, in Syria and move across the world with only faith that God would keep him safe.

The couple, along with their five other children, were sponsored by ConneXion Church and other community groups in Arborg last year through MCC Manitoba.

The Arborg and area community, including members of ConneXion Church met the Jarkas family at the Winnipeg airport one year ago.MCC photo/Andy Arthur

Before immigrating to Canada, Zainab and Ahmed had been working in Lebanon for two years because, while the conflict was raging in Syria, food prices skyrocketed and unemployment rates were high. Jamil, then 15, didn’t have proper paperwork to meet them in the neighbouring country, so he stayed with an uncle in Syria and worked as a tailor.

I crying, anxious, no good." - Zainab Jarkas

“We didn't know if, on the road (to Lebanon) they'd catch him or if he'd have to join the army, so we left him there,” Zainab says through a translator.

“I crying, anxious, no good,” she adds in broken English.

After arriving in Arborg, the Jarkas family began to build a life, thanks to their private sponsorship group.

Zainab Jarkas plays in the snow during her first Manitoba winter.Photo submitted by Trudy Dueck

According to Trudy Dueck, who is on the sponsorship team, the whole community rallied around them.

“The sponsorship brought us together as a community. It has made us dig deep for the resources within and around us and work for more resources where we could find them. The churches, the community at large, the schools, the businesses have all put time and energy into this,” she says.

She says the family fit into the community really well from the start and are like family to many people in Arborg.

The Jarkas family spends a day at the beach in Gimli, Manitoba with members of their sponsorship group. Left to right: Ahmed Jarkas, Elijah Rempel, Diyar Jarkas, Peter Dueck, Mohammed Jarkas, Dlyar Jarkas.Photo submitted by Trudy Dueck

“The Jarkas family is basically welcomed by everyone in the community. People are looking out for them here. They’re also giving back. They show so much hospitality – they prepare meals, give small gifts and are eager to thank everyone,” she said.

Since arriving in Canada, the children enrolled in school, Ahmed got a full-time job, Zainab planted a vegetable garden and the whole family is learning English with the help of the sponsorship group.

Still, the family wasn’t whole without Jamil.

I was so afraid that the Turkish or Syrian army would kill him (on the way)." - Zainab Jarkas

Another difficult decision

The Jarkas’ situation is common. Many families are forced to leave children behind when immigrating. Through a one-year window of opportunity sponsorship, dependents who are named on sponsorship documents but did not travel when the family came to Canada can join the rest of the family after the principal applicant, typically a parent, files paperwork with the Government of Canada.

In Jamil’s case, the only way he could join his family was if he made a perilous journey across the border to Turkey and then wait until his sponsorship papers came through.

The family was forced to pay a smuggler $700 to bring Jamil to Turkey. It was another impossible choice to make.

“I was so afraid that the Turkish or Syrian army would kill him (on the way),” Zainab says.

Coming to Canada

Luckily, Jamil made it safely to Turkey, but fell ill while there. Early on, he contracted a respiratory infection and was unable to work. His family worried and cried for him every day and hoped he would be healthy enough to travel to Canada.

After living with a cousin in Istanbul for a year, and being apart from his family for a total of three years, Jamil, now 18, was finally able to come to Canada.

Zainab and Ahmed Jarkas hug their son Jamil upon his arrival at the Winnipeg airport. Peter Dueck from the sponsorship group takes their photo.Photo submitted by Trudy Dueck

On June 15, the Jarkas family, together with the sponsorship group, welcomed Jamil to Manitoba with open arms and a lot of tears.

“I was more quiet because my wife was so overwhelming so I was calm for my family. I was so happy to see my son,” Ahmed says.

“Yes, I had too much emotion. I sometimes didn't believe I would see my son again, but when I saw him at the airport it was too much,” Zainab adds.

Safe Arrival

Now that Jamil is safe in Arborg with his family, he plans to learn English and go to work with his father. Ahmed currently works at a factory owned by one of the people in his sponsorship group.

“I’m happy to be in Canada with my family,” Jamil says through a translator, though he’s starting to learn a little English to speak to the sponsorship group when they visit.

Jamil Jarkas receives a teddy bear from his youngest sister Lilaf; a gift to welcome him to the country. Also pictured is Mohammed Jarkas. Photo submitted by Trudy Dueck

The family may be reunited, but Dueck says the sponsorship group isn’t finished.

Next, they will welcome Ahmed’s brother and sister-in-law (who is Zainab’s sister), their six children, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. ConneXion Church will sponsor this family with community and church groups from the Interlake area of Manitoba.

This family currently lives in a makeshift shelter on the property of a farm they work on in Lebanon. Zainab and Ahmed fear for them, as their employer is threatening to evict them. Ahmed says he hopes their paperwork will be processed quickly and they can come to Arborg soon. The team has already bought one house next door to the Jarkas' house and another one, just a couple of blocks away for the younger family.

“We would feel lost because we have no education, we can't read, we can't speak the language and we would have no support. It would be very hard for us. Thank God we came to Canada through these sponsors. They support us a lot and we're very happy.” - Zainab Jarkas

Zainab says without the sponsorship group, their life in Canada would look very different. They’re thankful their family members will be welcome the same way they were.

“We would feel lost because we have no education, we can't read, we can't speak the language and we would have no support. It would be very hard for us. Thank God we came to Canada through these sponsors. They support us a lot and we're very happy.”

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