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Journey to Canada

Two women smiling at the camera

We are a growing country, and the more we embrace the differences, the more we have to learn and celebrate.

Canada is a wonderful land of opportunity. For some of us this has always been home, but for others, this is a new home.

Many know Layla Khdir as a full-time student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology; what many don’t know is how she got to where she is today. Layla and her family were Syrian refugees, fleeing the country and staying in Egypt before they could eventually settle in Canada. I spoke with Layla and her mother, Manahel Albik, to learn more about their story. They explain how it all began.

Layla was raised in Syria, before the war began. Layla explains that there was a bomb attack, and glass had fallen down on her sister. “We couldn’t find any open clinics.A week after that incident, we moved to Egypt.”

The last Layla saw of Syria was in 2017 on a trip. A walk through her old town was enough to know that the family had made the right choice leaving the country.

Their family then lived in Egypt for eight years, before they applied for a resettlement program in relation to the United Nations Refugee Agency. This program helps refugees in unsafe countries find a home in safer and more developed countries.

Layla was 21 and Manahel was 42 when they made the move to Canada. Both had experienced unique struggles as newcomers to Canada.

Manahel is a cancer patient. When she was in Egypt, she developed breast cancer. To treat it, she needed expensive medication that was not available in Egypt. Manahel took matters into her own hands and spoke with the United Nations Refugee Agency, asking to have her family placed where she could have access to the medicine she needed.

Being a mother during this time was difficult. Luckily, Manahel had a brother who had been living in Vancouver for five years already, making Vancouver her first choice. Getting the request approved wasn’t easy; Manahel and her family had to wait three years before they finally landed in Canada in March 2019.

Layla said her struggles when moving to Canada mostly involved concerns for her mother. Layla explains that she was offered to live in her own place here in Vancouver, since she was over the age of 18, but she says living away from family was not common in her culture. “I wanted to live with her, I wanted to live with my family.”

Another conflict she came across was school. Layla completed only three out of the four years needed to get her degree in journalism studies in Egypt, due to her family moving to Canada. “I wanted to be well-educated…rather than not having a job in the future… Egypt was not a safe country to live in. There are too many sexual harassments, even for media workers, it is not a safe place.”

Layla now is continuing her journalism-related studies here at BCIT, enrolled in the Broadcasting and Online Journalism program.

Manahel and Layla both agreed if they could go back and share some advice with their past selves before the move, they would both begin the process of learning English sooner. Layla said she went from not taking a single English class, to studying full-time in English which felt to her like a huge jump.

Manahel says she is embracing the Canadian community. “Now I have many friends from many countries and cultures!” She also says since coming to Canada and completing her treatment she has been doing a lot better.

Layla says when she first came to BCIT she felt lonely being an immigrant, but now says her classmates have become her best friends.

We are surrounded by hundreds of journeys. According to Statista, just last year Canada had 284,000 new immigrants join us. We are a growing country, and the more we embrace the differences, the more we have to learn and celebrate.