Anya Noofoori and her two daughters recently stayed with U of O professor Luise Flotow after immigrating from Syria. Photo courtesy of Luise Flotow
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Professor opens doors to family in transition to permanent Ottawa housing

During the Christmas season, professor Luise Flotow of the University of Ottawa’s translation department welcomed three Syrian refugees, a mother, Anya Noofoori, and her two daughters, Luna and Isis, into her home for six weeks.

Flotow was told about the opportunity by her daughter, who is involved with a group called Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA) that helps refugees with the transition to life in Ottawa. She was also inspired to take in the family by her experience growing up as a child of German immigrants, and by her experience living abroad, noting that she has often been “a stranger in other people’s countries.”

After Luna applied for scholarships in North America, in an attempt to study in either Canada or the United States, the Canadian government became aware that the family wanted to immigrate to Canada and reached out to them with an offer to send them to Ottawa. “The embassy contacted them… and then told them on a Tuesday ‘you’re going to travel on Friday’.  So between Tuesday and Friday they packed 20 kilos of luggage each, that was the limit.”

Coming to Canada from Damascus, Syria in the middle of winter is a difficult transition to make, with many surprises. One of the biggest differences, for them, is the kind of clothing and footwear worn in Canada to stay warm.

“They were amazed at the kind of boots and shoes we have to wear here, and that they had to go and spend their precious money on… (Anya) put (the boots) on the floor and took a photograph of them, and sent the photograph around the world to all her brothers and sisters in various parts of the Middle East to show them.”

While staying with Flotow, the family shared some of their customs with her as well.  “What I enjoyed most, was the cooking,” said Flotow. “The mom put a lot of effort into cooking.”  According to Flotow, Anya would also prepare Turkish coffee with cardamom in the mornings to remind her of home.

The family is no longer staying with Flotow and is now living in more permanent housing in Ottawa. This family is one of many that have been re-settled in Canada, as the Liberal government recently reached its goal of 25,000 refugees re-settled by February on the evening of Feb. 27. 

However, there are still challenges for newly-arrived refugees. One is a difficulty finding affordable housing, especially in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa. “They are grateful to be here and they are eager to settle, to look for work and get their kids in school. But they are in limbo,” Jenny Kwan, the New Democratic Party immigration critic, told the Globe and Mail.

There also hurdles for finding a job in Canada’s current economy. These difficulties are compounded when refugees don’t have full command of the English language. “English is a key for also getting a job,” Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the U of O said at a U of O campus event hosted by the podcast CANADALAND.

So, what comes next for Flotow’s temporary roommates? Anya is looking to volunteer with a library or a similar organization, Isis is looking into continuing her education by pursuing an MA in Art History, and Luna will be attending university in the United States on a  scholarship.

Find more information on OCRA, and other ways to help refugees coming to Ottawa here.