Fatima Al-Roubaiai knows first-hand how the tensions and the turmoil of war impacts innocent bystanders.
Her family came to Canada from Syria, as refugees, amidst the Iran-Iraq war in 1986. Al-Roubaiai was only six weeks old when her family emigrated but she recognizes how difficult it was for her parents to abandon the life they had worked hard to establish and begin a new one in another country. The most painful part is watching her mother’s reaction to the current turmoil in Syria.
“All her family is there. She has property there. She kept a life in both countries. She kept up her passports and had the freedom to move between both countries. But now she feels like she can never go back. So, it’s a kind of vicarious trauma that I feel, through her,” said Al-Roubaiai.
After obtaining Canadian citizenship, Al-Roubaiai’s family visited Syria, their country of origin, when she was seven years old.
“I remember the smells and the colours were very vibrant. The agricultural element of the Okanagan really reminds me of the coastal area of Syria. The land is so green and fertile. The fruits and vegetables were mouth-watering. From the farms, to the markets to your kitchen table — they’re very similar.”
Al-Roubaiai’s family settled in Ontario, and she chose to pursue a career in nursing, the same profession as her mother. But she had visited friends in the Okanagan and when an opportunity to move presented itself, she jumped on it. Now, she works as a capability development leader with the British Columbia Patient and Quality Council. She chose nursing, the same profession as her mother.
Syria is now into the seventh year of the current revolution. Al-Roubaiai has had a lot of time to think about how she has been impacted by the conflict.
“To watch all of that happen and to be intrinsically connected to it — having family there — watching the rate of inflation skyrocket, I felt a lot of anger and social injustice. Now, we’ve settled into a new normal. Now, the question is not, how could this be happening but what are we going to do about it?”
Al-Roubaiai naturally is thrilled that the Canadian government is taking in the Syrian refugees. But she understands the frustration of some Canadians who are opposed to it. She urges people to look at it from the perspective of what she calls, “the long-game.”
“Now, all of my siblings that are living in Canada (three brothers and a sister) are all university educated, if not more. We all hold full-time jobs, if not multiple jobs. We all pay taxes. So, all the contributions the government gave us are being paid back. We’re contributing to the funding that is going to the current wave of refugees, as well as supporting the economy in general.”
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes. 22.5 million of them are refugees.
Al-Roubaiai points out that Canada’s population is not growing fast enough to support the infrastructure, education, health care, government pensions and social programs.
“If someone is fourth or fifth generation Canadian, they don’t know the struggles their ancestors faced when they came to this country. Unless you’re indigenous, you’re not from here.”
Al-Roubaiai is very optimistic about the future in relation to immigration. She feels we will see considerable progress in the next five to 10 years.
“I’m ready to work at building a tolerant, inclusive and more open society. I have multitudes of friends, co-workers and peers who are willing to do the same — whether it’s through art, music, health care, business or the tech industry. It’s up to us, as the next generation to design the kind of world we want to leave for the generations that come after us. I’m optimistic that we’re shifting out of the era of fear into the era of love.”
Celebrating multiculturalism and diversity in the community, 14 multicultural champions were selected to be featured and have their stories shared in the Penticton Western News on a monthly basis in partnership with the South Okanagan Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership Council and other partners.