Syrian refugee resolved to dream big despite odds

On his first day in Vancouver, Anas Sehmus took a walk outside with his sister and told her, “I feel I can breathe….I even think I can see better!” This was an incredible statement from this newly-arrived refugee whose deteriorated eyesight allowed him visually only a liquid blur.

But this statement also sums up the heady, impossibly joyous first hours of Anas’ arrival from Iraq where he had fled to from Syria over a year ago, and into the arms of three older sisters who made it here during Canada’s emergency Syrian resettlement response two years ago.

Anas’ well-reported reunion with his sisters and Tom Smith, the American whose single-minded and dogged pursuit of his wish to help Anas and other Syrian refugees saw him reaching across his country’s northern border to ISSofBC’s Chris Friesen, was just the beginning of a whirl of activities leading to what his Vancouver family and Tom hope will be a bright, new future.

Despite his eye condition which his family hopes can be corrected with treatment, Anas is not afraid to dream big. A law student in Syria with only three subjects left to complete his degree when war forced him to flee, Anas said in a gathering with Tom and his family at ISSofBC’s Welcome Centre last night that he might even strive to “be a judge!”

“I don’t know how to adequately express my gratitude,” Anas told the gathering through ISSofBC Settlement-Vancouver site manager Mahi Khalaf, who provided interpretation assistance. “Words do not do justice to what I’d like to say.”

As for Tom, the retired businessman from Florida who worked with family friend Rick Wandoff to sponsor Anas, he is looking forward to welcoming a Syrian family of four next. “I’m very happy that this will open up doors for Anas, not only for his treatment but for his life in Canada,” he said. Thanking Tom, ISSofBC CEO Patricia Woroch said, “This is such a wonderful gift from our neighbour across the border.”

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Update: Things are looking up after Anas had surgery on his right eye in late June. Here’s more:

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