Read in his own words how Anas Al-Raheem left his home country Iraq to escape the war, only to be faced with conflict once again when his family moved to Syria. Through the Student Refugee Program, Anas was able to come to Canada where he is now a first-year student at the University of Toronto.
Can you describe the experience of fleeing your country?
In 2006 Iraq was unbearable and extremely dangerous due to the war, especially the capital Baghdad,. This conflict was reaching our neighbourhood and was threatening the life of all its residents. My family decided that they could no longer stay in Iraq and, like hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, we moved to Syria where I stayed for the next seven years.
What were some of the difficulties you faced as a refugee in another country?
The two most significant problems that Iraqis face in Syria are obtaining a permanent residence card and working. The Syrian government issues a temporary residence card or a receipt for the card. The problem in this is that Iraqis are living an unsettled life, as their receipt can be canceled at any time and they will have to leave the country. The second problem is to find work. Iraqis without the permanent residence card are not allowed to work.
Could you pursue your education as a refugee?
For Iraqis, universities are not free as they are for Syrians. I got accepted in dentistry school, but I only finished three years out of five because of the increasingly difficult situation in the country. I needed to find an alternative and that is when I found out about the Student Refugee Program.
What was the application process like? How did you feel when you found out you were accepted?
After I applied, WUSC and UNHCR interviewed me and assessed my English language skills. Unfortunately in 2011, the Syrian revolution started and the Canadian embassy closed thus postponing our files and delaying the SRP application process indefinitely. In 2013, the Canadian government resumed immigration processing for Iraqis in Syria through their embassy in Lebanon. My application went through and I was accepted to the Student Refugee Program. Soon after, Michelle Manks (Senior Program Officer for the Student Refugee Program) told me that I was accepted to the University of Toronto! It was wonderful news, I never imagined myself studying at a high and prestigious university such as the University of Toronto.
What were the first few weeks in Canada like?
I arrived to Canada two weeks after the start of the academic year, thus my first few weeks in Canada were extremely difficult. I had to adapt to the new environment, and to keep up with my classes; I was studying in a different language and I was living alone for the first time in my life.
What are your thoughts on the school system here?
The educational opportunities in Canada are so wide ranging. The fact that you can choose two majors, which means I can study more than one interest, and the flexibility of the Canadian education system, which means if I feel that I chose the wrong field of study I still can change the major. The Canadian multi-cultural landscape is stunning. I was impressed by the environment, the kindness of people, the openness, the acceptance and politeness of Canadians. One of the best things about Canada is I can find any kind of food I want and I see people from around the world.
How did the WUSC Local Committee at UofT help you out during your first year?
The UofT Local Committee helped me to settle here, provided me with school basics and introduced me to interesting people. So far, my best memory with the Local Committee is when I went to Ottawa, for the International Forum, and to Kitchener for a refugee conference with some of the LC members.
You're still in your first year, but do you have any plans for after you graduate?
After I finish my Bachelor’s degree in Science at UofT, I plan on applying to dentistry school and eventually become a dentist. I also hope that in the future my family is able to come to Canada or at least move to another safe country because of the current situation in Syria.
How has this whole experience with WUSC and the Student Refugee Program changed your life?
The most important thing WUSC and the SRP have given me is the opportunity to live in Canada. If I were to stay in Syria or go back to Iraq, I would most likely have no future. The whole region is in war and more wars are yet to come. I would like to thank the people at WUSC for their noble work. I, along with thousands other refugee students, were given a chance for a new beginning, a new life.
Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
Thank you for this opportunity and I really hope that I can see other students from Syria, coming to Canada through SRP in the coming years.