‘Thank God we are here, we are safe’: Syrian refugee family become Canadian citizens

Four years after arriving in B.C. as Syrian refugees, a Burnaby family is now officially Canadian, after taking an oath of citizenship last week.

“When we landed here we didn’t know where we are — we just landed somewhere after a 13 hour flight,” said Vicken Majarian.

“Now we know the country very well, we know the culture — it’s a very multicultural country and we are trying to keep our culture plus the Canadian one. We were Syrian-Armenians, now [we’ve] become Canadian-Armenians.”

Vicken Majarian and his wife Alin Arekelian and their children Haig and Karni arrived in B.C. on December 22, 2015.

The former dentist and civil engineer left Aleppo after being sponsored by the St. Gregory Armenian Church in Richmond. 

At the time, holding back tears at YVR, Arekelian described the family’s plight. 

“We were imagining this moment for a long time. It’s not easy to be in war. All the rockets just falling down on our buildings. You just hide in the basement, waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

“It’s not easy.”

Syrian refugees Vicken Majarian, Alin Arekelian and their children speak to CBC reporter Bal Brach after arriving at YVR in 2015. (CBC)

As the Majarian family officially became Canadian this month, Arekelian now says she feels a sense of peace. 

“Now I see hope, I see light, I see [a] future for my kids,” she said.

“When I see them happy I say, thank God we are here, we are safe.”

Employment and Housing challenges

Like many newcomers to Canada, the path to citizenship has not been an easy one for the Majarian family. They have faced several obstacles since arriving as refugees. 

Both Majerian and Arekelian were unable to afford the high costs to become accredited and work in their chosen fields of dentistry and civil engineering — which they had done in Syria.

Over the years, they have held jobs in restaurants and the hospitality industry.

Alin Arekelian, at left, and her husband, Viken Majarian, seen meeting with GT Hiring Solutions in February 2016 to find jobs in their professions. (CBC News)

Majarian is currently working as a lab technician at a medical office while Arekelian finishes school to become an education assistant to children with special needs. 

“I couldn’t become a [dentist] but I will try again and again,” said Majarian. 

“Now I’m trying to survive with what I have but I still have that goal to be a dentist again [one day].” 

The family of four lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Burnaby due to the high cost of housing in Metro Vancouver. 

Canadian dream 

As they rebuild their life, they say despite the challenges over the past four years, they are grateful to be in Canada. 

The Majarian family poses for a photo before officially becoming Canadian citizens on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

 “When I think about being Canadian … I love that people, they help when you ask for help, and they really value your work and appreciate you as a person, because every person matters — no matter what,” said Arekelian. 

“The most important thing I was dreaming about for my kids was their education. They are having a good education in schools [here] and I am very happy for that.”

Majarian said he is determined to succeed as a new Canadian for the sake of his children.

“It’s great that we could give them a safe place and a good education,” he said.

“I hope they will give back to Canada [when they grow up].”



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