The Riyadh family, consisting of Reem, left, Rajaa, second from left, Riyadh, second from right, and Roaa, far right, meet Premier John Horgan and Sooke mayor Maja Tait at the New Year’s Day Levee after arriving in Sooke in December. The family plans to move to Ontario this summer to be with family and friends.                                Contributed photo

The Riyadh family, consisting of Reem, left, Rajaa, second from left, Riyadh, second from right, and Roaa, far right, meet Premier John Horgan and Sooke mayor Maja Tait at the New Year’s Day Levee after arriving in Sooke in December. The family plans to move to Ontario this summer to be with family and friends. Contributed photo

Sooke-sponsored Iraqi family leaving for Ontario

Family arrived in Sooke last December

An Iraqi family that arrived in Sooke late last year is leaving for Ontario.

The family, sponsored by Team Sooke/Juan de Fuca, was approved to come to Canada in 2016, but was held up in Lebanon for two years due to government bureaucracy.

“We fled Iraq when ISIS overtook our city, Mosul, and stripped us of all our property and threatened our lives because of our faith. We sought refuge in Lebanon, but were never given any legal status, thus rendering us unable to find jobs or settle down,” said the family in a statement to the Sooke News Mirror.

Sooke residents raised about $50,000 to bring the family here and support them for a year.

The Riyadh family consists of Riyadh and his wife, Rajaa, and their two daughters Reem, 22, and Roaa, 14, who finally arrived in Sooke in December, after a long, difficult journey.

In Iraq, Riyadh worked as an administrator at a local church, Rajaa owned her own salon, Reem was in her fourth year of studying music at a post-secondary school, and Roaa was still in school.

Since arriving, the family has been busy getting adjusted, but have been greatly welcomed in the community.

“It’s been amazing to see what they have done since getting here,” said Sharon Sterling, settlement coordinator for the Sooke/Juan de Fuca Refugee Sponsorship Team

Roaa has been going to school at Journey Middle School, and the rest of the family has been taking English classes in downtown Victoria.

“We were told that it’s important for sponsor families to focus on learning English for the first six months after arriving here, so that they can better adjust to their new life, and get good jobs,” explained Sterling.

Reem continues to pursue her passion for music and is singing with the Sooke Community Choir.

In Iraq, it is illegal for women to ride bikes, so the town donated bikes to the family, who have been overjoyed to ride them around.

The family will remain in Sooke until the end of June, when Roaa finishes the school year, and the lease on their apartment is up.

“This is a sign of success. As a sponsor, our goal was to get them here, give them a soft landing, help them get settled and work towards independence, and then for them to be totally self sufficient within 12 months,” said Sterling. “And they will be doing that within seven months.”

They will be moving to Mississauga, near Toronto, where several immigrant families they know, as well as a family member lives.

“Refugees don’t get to choose where they go in the world. Their families have been spread all over, and so the Riyadh family’s goal is to go there and all be taking care of each other in this community of friends and family,” said Sterling.

Sid Jorna, chairperson for the sponsorship team, said the family has been very graceful about it, and was happy they gave so much notice.

“When they first told us it was a shock, but when we thought about it, we realized that it makes sense for them,” said Jorna.

The family will be responsible for all of their own costs in the move, including their flights, but the sponsorship group wants to help give them guidance like figuring out which flights to take and how to ship their things.

Sterling said all of the leftover money from the family, will be put towards bringing another refugee family to Canada.

“We are very sad the Riyadh family is leaving because we really care for them, but we do believe it’s the right move for them at this time,” said Sterling.

“They are doing what they haven’t been able to do for the last three years, which is take control of their own lives.”

The family said they are very grateful to the community for welcoming them with open arms.

“Living in Canada means living a free and a secure life with no fear of persecution. It means a new beginning for our family where we can live in peace, and moving forward, contribute to society like any other patriotic Canadian,” they said.

“Thank you, and God bless Sooke.”