When Zarmig Amin came to Canada six years ago, she was 20 years old, and fleeing civil war in Syria.
Aleppo was the only home she had ever known until she arrived in Midland in February 2016 to a house full of clothes, food and a room full of smiling faces that would soon become chosen family.
Amin had just graduated high school, and started her university career when she and her family took shelter underground from the bombs overhead after the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011.
“We chose to leave for our own safety,” says Amin.
When Amin left with her brother Katchik, and her parents, they went to Lebanon where her other brother was already living. Another of her brothers chose to stay in Syria.
“At first it was challenging,” says Amin. The process involves leaving everyone, and everything you’ve ever known behind.
After living in Lebanon for some time, the Amin family applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for resettlement.
Amin and her family waited three years until they heard that Canada was accepting refugees. Amin received the call that there was a plane ticket for her to come to Canada in 2016.
In that time, from 2011-2016, the UN Security Council estimated the crisis in Syria claimed 250,000 lives and displaced 12 million people — described as one of the largest refugee crises in the world. To date, more than 400,000 people have perished in the Syrian war; more than six million people are internally displaced and 14 million refugees are spread across the globe.
In 2020, Marco E. L. Mendicino, then-Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said that 73,000 Syrian refugees had made their way to Canada since 2011.
According to the UNHCR, Canada is one of the world leaders in resettling refugees. There are more refugees between 25 and 54 years old than there are Canadian-born citizens.
Becoming one of those young people resettling in Canada, Amin was told she would have to leave her family behind.
“It’s very rare for whole families to get refugee status at the same time,” says Amin.
She took the chance. When she landed in Toronto, and visited with her aunt and cousins, she felt relieved. Then, when she found out she would be moving to Midland, she was shocked when someone mistakenly told her Midland was six hours from Toronto.
After making a more than 9,000-kilometer trip from Syria to Canada, a journey that lasted more than 24 hours, Amin was distraught at the thought that she would be a farther six hours away from her extended family in Toronto.
Then, Ziad Al-Moussawi, a member of the group that sponsored Amin and her family, called her and reassured her that Midland was only two hours away.
At the time, he was the calming voice that spoke Arabic on the other end of the phone, and told her about the people that were waiting to help her find comfort in her new home.
Amin says she did not fully understand how the refugee process worked, and was surprised to learn that there was an entire group of people responsible for sponsoring her.
“When I came in and saw all those people, and the house was full of food, clothes, everything you can imagine,” says Amin, “I felt more relaxed. They were with me morning, noon and night.
“My brother came the next week,” she explains, “We were surrounded by all these amazing people.”
They began to settle into life in Midland, and their parents joined them three months later.
Then, on July 1st — Canada Day — I got my first job,” says Amin.
She remembers that Al-Moussawi, owner of Sammouna Middle Eastern Restaurant, wasn’t sure Amin would like working in a restaurant. “Now, I manage the place,” laughs Amin.
Over the next few years, the Amin family continued to make Canada their new home, and worked to bring over another brother, Sevag, with the help of the group that sponsored her family.
Yet another brother chose to stay in Syria because he had children. Amin got engaged, married her husband in Armenia, and brought him to Canada in 2018.
When she reflects on all that has happened since she first came to Canada, and to Midland, Amin quickly thinks of the chosen family that brought her and her family here.
“At this point, they’re past the organization that brought me here. They’re past sponsors. They’re family,” explains Amin. “It’s hard to forget what they’ve done. You have to appreciate what they’ve done to get you here.”
Al-Moussawi also helped her get a job at Sammouna. Amin is excited to get back to work at the restaurant’s new location while she works towards joining the OPP.
“I would love to keep Midland a safe place if I can,” says Amin, full of love and appreciation for her new hometown.
“I don’t feel like I’m a refugee. I don’t feel like an immigrant. I’m Canadian,” says Amin.
Turning her attention back to the home where she was born, Amin says, “I want to go one day to Aleppo. At the end, the people who stayed there, they are the actual heroes.”