All Things Assyrian
Assyrian Brother and Sister Who Fled Syria Now in University
By Dale Carruthers

Nineb Yousef, 18, left, and Ninwe Yousef, 20, an Assyrian brother and sister who arrived in Canada in January after leaving their home in Tel Temir, Syria, have each been awarded four year scholarships to study at Western University. ( Craig Glover/London Free Press)
Fleeing their war-torn village in Syria, Nineb Yousef and sister Ninwe left their family, friends, home and middle-class life behind.

But the siblings made sure to pack their high school transcripts, knowing the documents would be their ticket to a better future in Canada.

Ten months later and more than 9,000 kilometres travelled, Nineb and Ninwe are two of 10 Syrian refugees selected for all-expenses-paid scholarships at Western University.

The pair say the four-year scholarship is an opportunity to achieve their dreams and build better lives in their new country.

"We will do well in Canada," Nineb said with confidence.

Living in Tel Tamer, a town in northeastern Syrian where their father was a doctor, the Yousefs weren't initially affected when a peaceful uprising against Syria's longtime president, Bashar al-Assad, turned violent in 2011.

But that changed when the Islamic State started targeting members of the Assyrian community, a minority Christian group to which the siblings belong. As the situation continued to deteriorate last fall, Nineb and Ninwe's parents sent them to neighbouring Lebanon, where they registered as refugees with the United Nations.

Their father refused to leave his town, now under protection from the Kurdish YPG militia, because he's the only doctor for the remaining few hundred Assyrians still in the area. In December, he survived a triple truck bomb at his clinic that killed 50 and injured dozens of others, an attack claimed by the Islamic State.

Nineb, 18, and Ninwe, 20, arrived in Canada on Jan. 14 as privately sponsored refugees, moving into an apartment at Huron Street and Highbury Avenue with a cousin

Members of the North Park Community Church, who co-sponsored the siblings, helped them apply for the scholarships at Western.

"We don't want these kids to lose their future. We want them to be amazing," said Ron Burdock, director of global outreach at North Park, a church of 1,500 parishioners who have sponsored 24 Syrian refugees and co-sponsored 28 others.

"We really believe that they ought to have the same opportunity to live up to their potential as we did."

The siblings are taking English as second language courses through CultureWorks at Brescia University College, where both have proven to be quick studies.

The pair, who had high school averages in the nineties, say they're feeling both excitement and nervousness about starting at Western early next year. Nineb will study biochemistry at university, while Ninwe is going into nutrition.

Though some Syrian refugees hold out hope of returning to their country, Nineb and Ninwe now consider Canada their home.

"Of course we want to build lives here," Nineb said.

And they aspire to bring their family here, but know their father will be reluctant to leave.

"Everyday I ask him, 'when will you come here?'" Ninwe said.

As the Syrian conflict showed no sign of ending last year -- more than 400,000 have been killed and 11 million others displaced -- post-secondary schools in London offered scholarships to refugees. In addition to the 10 spots at Western, Fanshawe College provided 10 scholarships, with Medix and the North American Trade School each adding five.

London has settled more than 1,100 Syrian refugees -- the third most of any Ontario city -- through both government and private sponsorships, with hundreds more expected by the end of the year.


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