The Khalil family, who fled the conflict in their Iraqi homeland, have worked extremely hard to find their way in Canada. The hard work is paying off as they settle in to their Toronto townhouse. Photo by Michael Swan

Iraqi refugee family finds success in hard work and each other’s support

By 
  • January 15, 2017

Since the Khalil family arrived in Canada in July 2012, they’ve been working out their own Canadian values — mother and father both working two jobs, squeezing in English classes whenever they could, making sure the kids are in school. The Khalil Canadian values start with hard work and end with family.

By most standards, the Khalils are a refugee success story, and a positive illustration of the principles of World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a family that got a chance to start over in Canada away from the chaos and danger that followed them in the Middle East.

Fady Allos knows Ayad Khalil as a hard-working warehouse manager and driver at Ararat International Foods in Toronto, where Allos is the financial controller.

“Number one, a hard-working guy,” said Allos. “A very honest guy. He stands by his word. He’s a true asset at the company.”

Over the last four and a half years, Ayad and his wife Sahr came to the conclusion that paying up to $1,400 a month in rent was unproductive. In December they started paying a mortgage and moved into their own townhouse in the northeast corner of Toronto.

Both Sahr and Ayad have worked day and evening jobs for most of their time in Canada. Sahr worked in a restaurant during the day and cleaned offices at night. Ayad started out at a Middle Eastern grocery store, but pitched in with Sahr on the office cleaning job at night.

Their 13-year old son, Saher, worries a little about how much his parents work. He would like to see them home for dinner at 5 p.m., like other families he sees.

“They need to rest,” he said.

Saher and his nine-year-old sister Naden are students at St. Aidan’s, just a short walk from their new townhouse.

The big challenge for Ayad and Sahr is the English language. They both get by, but they want to become Canadian citizens and worry about meeting the standard for the citizenship test.

At Sahr’s new job she puts in 12-hour days sewing alterations at a dry cleaning shop. With the new house and two growing children, English classes just don’t fit into her schedule. So she’s stranded at level three in LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers) program. Ayad has managed to get to level four, but they need to get to level six to qualify for citizenship.

When the Khalil family left their Christian village just outside Mosul, Iraq, in 2009 they could never have imagined their life in Canada.

There wasn’t much question about the necessity of moving the family out of Iraq. Ayad had been kidnapped for three days — an episode that cost Ayad and Sahr’s families $20,000 (U.S.).

Life in the poor Geramana neighbourhood of Damascus was no picnic either. By 2012, Syria’s civil war had erupted. Ayad had to quit his under-the-table night job at a restaurant because walking the streets after dark had become too dangerous.

The Khalil family’s slim hope had rested on a meeting with Office of Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto director Martin Mark at the Syriac Orthodox church in Damascus in 2010. ORAT teamed up with Ayad’s cousin, Talal Allo, in Richmond Hill, Ont., to sponsor the family, with help from St. Barsaumo’s Syriac Orthodox Church in Markham.

The sponsors found an apartment for the Khalils on Lawrence Avenue and Ayad went up and down the street, calling in at Middle Eastern stores and restaurants asking for a job. Within two weeks he was working at Arz, the up-market Middle Eastern grocery store.

Work was important. Ayad is proud that he never applied for welfare.

“We’ve got the situation,” Ayad said. “Work hard. Four years we’re working. I worked two jobs. She worked two jobs. We’ve got this situation. We’ve got a house. We’ve got a car. Now we are better than 2012.”

There are, of course, concerns about what has happened in their homeland, and the fact they Ayad has a brother and an uncle stuck in Lebanon, but right now, the Khalils say there is nothing they would rather be than Canadians. That is, except for young teen Saher. With minus-10 temperatures in Toronto, he says he would rather be in Hawaii.

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