VANCOUVER — Majd Agha wasn’t sure what he would say to a crowd of reporters gathered outside a newcomer centre under construction in Vancouver.
The 22-year-old Syrian refugee didn’t prepare a speech. But still infuriated by news of a Hungarian camerawoman tripping and kicking migrants, he spoke eloquently and firmly about the need for Canada to do more.
“As long as you’re Syrian, it’s going to be extremely hard for you to come to Canada,” he said in an interview at the recent event.
The Canadian Press has been reaching out to Syrians who arrived here as refugees to tell their stories. Since civil war broke out in 2011, more than four million Syrians have fled the country.
Agha spoke at a construction site at the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia’s Welcome House, a $24.5-million refugee housing and support centre being built in Vancouver.
The college student knows he was one of the lucky ones. He arrived in Canada in June 2014 with the help of the United Nations Refugee Agency, after an arduous journey that led him to Russia, Lebanon, Turkey and Thailand.
He was among a group of refugees who were stuck in a Thai airport while authorities refused to allow the UN access to interview them. Two months later, authorities relented and the UN moved Agha to the Philippines before bringing him to Canada.
Agha is now studying bioinformatics while working part-time at a Tommy Hilfiger. His parents and one of his sisters live in Damascus, while another sister lives in Saudi Arabia.
The last time he saw his family was in 2013. They talk occasionally, but the time difference makes it difficult and he fears constantly for their safety, he said.
“It’s really hard, especially when you see on the news how dangerous the situation is,” he said. “You never know if they’re sleeping, or if there’s no power or if they’re not able to talk to you.”
Ideally, Agha said, his family would try to immigrate to Canada. But they do not want to leave their homes permanently — and even if they did, the application would be pointless, he said.
“There’s no hope,” he said. “The application costs a lot of money, and if you’re just going to be denied, then no, it’s not worth it.”
His family desperately wants to visit him. But their recent $800 application for a tourist visa was denied, with Canadian authorities citing concerns the family would stay in the country.
The Conservatives pledged on Saturday to declare all displaced Syrians as refugees and appoint a special co-ordinator to speed up the intake of 10,000 migrants by September 2016.
But Agha, who now sees himself as an advocate for other refugees, called on the government to focus on reuniting families who have been separated.
“I hope they would be able to work this out faster, not only for me but for most people who have families back home,” he said.
“Everyone is missing their family.”