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'People died every day': Family shares story of escape from Syria

Children struck by bullets while family was driving in Syria; Mother tore off her hijab and wrapped it around her son’s leg as a tourniquet

At about seven years old, Silva Bozan fell asleep in a van during a late-night drive to Aleppo with her family, then she was shot in the stomach by unknown and unseen assailants. 

She awoke to the sound of gunshots and stood straight up seconds before a bullet came through the van and hit her in the gut. Had she remained seated, it would have struck her head. 

Her younger brother was also shot, a bullet struck him in the upper thigh. He was asleep, too.  

Silva’s father, Ahmed, scooped her up into his arms. Her mother, Hasna, tore off the hijab she was wearing and wrapped it around her son’s leg as a tourniquet. 

Another Bosan son, Halil, who was only about six years old at the time, remembers the night in detail. His mother was screaming. The van ran out of gas and they had to park behind a building to refill it with Jerry cans. His sister’s intestines were coming out of the bloody wound in her abdomen.

He's convinced his siblings were shot by ISIS troops. 

They eventually met their uncle who came to them with police from Aleppo. They searched desperately for a hospital  one that would care for Kurdish patients  and finally found one. 

“In five more minutes, I would have died,” recalled Silva, now sitting in a lawn chair in her family’s backyard in Collingwood.

She graduates high school this year and will be attending Georgian College to become a pharmacy technician. 

The Bozan family fled Syria during the civil war and eventually came to Canada as the first family sponsored by the Collingwood Syrian Sponsorship Committee. They arrived to Collingwood on June 1, 2016, after years of fleeing violence and racism. 

In Syria, the family faced violence because of their Kurdish heritage. In Turkey, where they fled to from their home in Syria, they were denied medical care, police protection, even access to playgrounds because they were Syrian. 

“A lot of people don’t know what we’ve been through,” said Silva. “It was hard to live.”

Halil and Silva said they wouldn’t be allowed on playgrounds. Groups of children would line up and wait for them to pass by so they could beat up the Kurdish kids. Few hospitals would accept Kurdish patients. 

“In Turkey, they tell refugees to go home, and there is violence against refugees,” said Halil, who is also graduating from high school this year. “Turkish people want refugees to go back to their countries, but it’s not safe to go home.” 

Before the Bozan family left, they spent many days hiding in the basement of their apartment building. They heard tanks, airplanes, bombs in their city. The building next to theirs was levelled in a bombing. 

“People died every day,” said Halil. “We didn’t get a lot of sleep. There was so much noise at night, and the bombs and guns shook the ground.” 

Food was scarce, too. A truck would arrive each day with supplies and bread, but often not enough for the lineup of people waiting for it. 

“People would fight other people for food,” said Silva. 

The Bozans did get out and arrived to Collingwood to find a community of volunteers eager to help them make a new home. 

The sponsorship covered expenses for a year, and volunteers helped arrange English lessons, driving lessons, transportation, connections at school and in community sports, and child care for the parents while they took English classes, among other things. 

Less than a month after arriving, the family welcomed their sixth child, a son named Evan, the first Canadian in their family. In 2019, they bought a house. 

Ahmed Bozan will be the second with a citizenship ceremony scheduled in July. 

Since arriving, they found work at Blue Mountain as housekeepers and Ahmed has now opened his own business as a car detailer. He also works part-time at the Holiday Inn. Both Silva and Halil work at Blue Mountain. 

Halil is also attending Georgian College in the fall for an apprenticeship in electrical engineering. 

The family members say they are grateful for what they call their Collingwood community and the help they received from many people who welcomed them and supported their cross-world move. 

They travelled with very little, but arrived to a home, furniture and clothes. 

Daily, they are reminded of the life they escaped. The life many of their family members are still living. 

Hasna worries for her sisters, who face danger from the war, food shortages from drought, and impossible markets with skyrocketing prices. 

Monday was World Refugee Day  a time to remember the people like Hasna’s family who are surrounded by war, violence, racism, and death. 

“I think it’s a time to raise awareness about the plight of refugees,” said Ruth Plant, a member of the Collingwood Syrian Sponsorship Committee. “There are people who live their whole lives in a refugee camp and they never get to the light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of them, I think, still have hope that someday things will change.” 

Since forming in 2016, the committee has sponsored two Syrian families and an Iraqi family. They have also supported others who made their way to Collingwood as refugees in other programs. 

Two families have purchased homes in Collingwood, and three of the children are moving on to post-secondary education now. All of the adults have found work and many of the families who arrived first are helping to support the newcomers. 

The committee has received an anonymous donation to allow them to sponsor a new refugee family and Plant said they are working through the process now and waiting to hear what family they will be matched with and where they will be coming from. 

“There are many refugees who have been waiting many, many years to be sponsored,” said Plant.

The committee welcomes volunteers, and may be collecting donations at a later date for a future family sponsorship. There is a specific need for volunteers who speak languages from Afghanistan, Sudan, or Somalia to help with translation. 

Those interested in volunteering with the committee can email Plant at ruthcollingwood2016@gmail.com