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Syrian refugee family says new life has challenges, but working hard to adjust

WATCH ABOVE: The Al Arid family arrived in Canada six months ago. They’re working hard as a family to adjust to their new life, after fleeing the civil war in Syria. But, they face some challenges in settling in. Robin Gill has their story.

SURREY, B.C. —  Jamil Al Arid has only been in a Canadian classroom since September, but he remembers when it became too dangerous for him to go to school at all in Syria.

Speaking to Global News with the help of a translator, it became such a “hard task” to go to school in the war-torn country that he “felt as if we were not going to continue to go to school anymore.”

But he’s happy that he and two of his three brothers can be in school once again.

“It’s good here,” he said. “There is respect here and there is respect among people.

Their father Khaled is also in class learning English as he looks for work. In fact, the whole family practices English together every day.

READ MORE: How to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees: A step-by-step guide

Before the family fled Syria, Khaled worked in construction. His wife Fteim has no education and is a stay-at-home mother.

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“The children are adjusting well, at a rapid pace,” Khaled said in Arabic. “They are mingling with the children here and getting to know the culture and the language better.”

He said adjusting takes “time and effort” on the part of his family.

“It’s not an easy process,” Khaled said. “This is a new country and new language and we have to adapt ourselves to it.”

Before the war broke out in the spring of 2011, after a crackdown on anti-government protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, Khaled said he didn’t think things in Syria would get as bad as it did.

The family eventually had to flee to Lebanon, where they stayed until they came to Canada six months ago, through the UNHCR resettlement program.

Khaled, his wife and children are among the more than 3,000 Syrian refugees resettled in Canada since July 2013. The Liberal government is now in the process of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year, with a new goal of resettling a total of 25,000 across Canada by February 2016. (The Liberals had vowed to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.)

READ MORE: Feds may miss February deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees: immigration minister

More than 4 million Syrians fled the country and registered as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

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The Al Arids have faced struggles since fleeing their home country.

“We’re trying to adapt to life here,” Fteim said through the translator. “Especially since I have to take into consideration my son’s medical condition.”

The youngest son, three-year-old Hassan, was diagnosed with cancer in his left eye after arriving in Canada. It had to be removed to stop the spread.

But there’s also the challenge of making ends meet for a family of six. The share a small apartment in Surrey, B.C.

READ MORE: Canadian Forces bases on standby for Syrian refugee arrivals

They’ve been living off government assistance that works out to about $1,400 a month. The rent for their apartment is $1,100; the remaining $300 goes towards keeping the four children fed. “It’s never enough,” said Khaled.

The medical care was provided for free, but the Al Arids do have to pay back the cost of the flights from Lebanon. The bill for that is about $8,000.

Despite the challenges, they feel at home now, said Jamil.

“I feel as if I were born here. This is going to be my home,” he said. “There is no home for me to go back to in Syria anymore.”

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And the family is thankful for the government helping them, especially the immediate medical care Hassan received to treat his cancer.

Still, his parents have memories — both good and bad — of the life they left behind in Syria.

“Before the crisis, it was a beautiful place,” Fteim said, adding the family hopes it can return one day.