From Syria to Vancouver

Mohammed Alsaleh, a refugee advocate nominated by RBC as one of 2018’s top 25 Canadian immigrants, works as the B.C. trainer for the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) to guide new refugees in Canada by helping them with the resettlement process.

Due to the challenges that he and other refugees have overcome in their past, Alsaleh says that refugees should be considered survivors, not victims.

Mohammed Alsaleh, refugee advocate. | Photo courtesy of Mohammed Alsaleh

“Refugees can be very resourceful people because they had the strength to travel to the other side of earth in the search for better opportunities,” says Alsaleh.

Alsaleh identifies as a survivor; he was imprisoned, tortured and labeled as a terrorist by the Assad Regime in Syria. He came to Canada in 2014 and has been sharing his story with the world ever since. Sharing his story enables him to create good out of a bad experience. He believes that an individual’s voice can create an impact, especially in Canada. In the summer of 2018, he officially became a Canadian citizen and was able to vote for the mayor of Vancouver.

“You have no idea how empowering that felt,” he says.

Settlement struggles

Integrating into Canadian society has been a learning journey for Alsaleh.

“My favorite thing about Canada is the freedom here,” he says. “For someone who did not have freedom to document and expose the atrocities committed by the Assad regime, you cannot put a price on freedom.”

Even though the challenges are unique for each family, all the families have the common struggle of having to start from scratch, he says.

Alsaleh points out how Canada is always taking a leadership role with international acts of kindness, whether it be dealing with issues surrounding climate change or giving asylum to refugees. He says that the refugee asylum is an investment in the country’s future because when one provides security to the survivors of tragedy from third world countries, they give back and so will their next generations.

Hindsight and looking forward

If I was to give advice to my 2014 self, I would say, work hard, be patient and drop your expectations.”

One of the reasons Alsaleh says he was successful at settling in Canada is because he knew it would not be easy. When he was struggling with his own resettlement process, he used to tell himself ‘it’s not easy’ repeatedly; this was his own unique way of helping himself cope. He also did not want to lose sight of his original life goals.

“I wanted to become a cancer specialist,” he said.

Alsaleh lost his favorite cousin to cancer while growing up and he wanted to make a difference by being a cancer specialist. Even though more recent obstacles have distanced him from this goal, he says that his future is going to revolve around Canadian values that focus on saving lives.

For him, one of the reasons why Canada feels so welcoming is because the cities here are very diverse and Canadians are comfortable with that. Though Alsaleh goes to great lengths to describe the good parts about living in Canada, he also needs to mention the experiences that made him feel unwelcome. These unwelcoming experiences came in the form of hate calls and messages, but he believes this is simply a result of hate politics. He feels no country is ever going to be perfect and even a country as kind as Canada will always have areas that need work.

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