‘What we depart behind’: Refugees in Montreal paint an image of their lives earlier than Canada

When Adnan Al Mhamied thinks about what he left behind in Syria, it’s the everyday things that come to mind.

“I still remember the details: the streets, the neighbourhood, the way that I lived there,” said Al Mhamied, who fled the civil war in 2014. “I left my sister there, who is very close to me.”

His story is part of a new interview series called “What we leave behind,” run out of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, a non-profit organization based in Montreal.

The project documents personal narratives of refugees in Montreal, focusing on the lives people built and had to leave behind.

That’s part of the refugee experience that Canadians often don’t get to hear much about, said Priya Nair, a fellow at the Samuel Centre, who is leading the project.

Priya Nair, a fellow at the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, is conducting the interviews. (Colin Harris/CBC)

“You don’t get to hear about the entire lives that they had built before they were forced to flee their countries,” said Nair.

“It focuses only mostly on the events that lead to forced migration, and then resettlement,” Nair said.

By hearing about the lives refugees had to leave behind before they arrived in Montreal, Nair hopes listeners can better relate to their experience.

“All of us grew up with friends, close family. We all have hopes and dreams as kids,” she said.

Nair has interviewed three people so far, and says she hopes to get more voices for the oral history project.

The project also focused on the sense of belonging migrants are trying to carve out in Montreal.

“We all just seek a sense of belonging, and that’s what these people are trying to do in our society,” said Nair.

Al Mhamied is finding his own place in Montreal. He is finishing his PhD in social work at McGill University, and says he hopes he can give back to the community.

Despite the roots he is growing in Montreal, he says some parts of Syria still creep into his Montreal life, including some of the habits his mother instilled in him.

“I’m actually still following her orders,” he said. “She used to wake me up at four, so now I’m voluntarily awake at four.”

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