November 26, 2015 6:27 pm
Updated: November 26, 2015 7:04 pm

‘Everybody deserves to live a happy joyful life’: Kosovar refugee reflects on her own journey amid Syrian crisis

WATCH ABOVE: As Canada prepares to welcome an influx of Syrian refugees, a Halifax businesswoman is sharing her story because she knows their struggles firsthand. Rebecca Lau has more.


HALIFAX – A couple decades ago, Bedrije Rexhepi would never have imagined herself in Halifax owning her own hairdressing business.

But in 1999, in the midst of a brutal civil war in Kosovo, Rexhepi found herself starting over.

“It wasn’t easy, sometimes it still isn’t easy,” she said.

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READ: Refugee organizations, government preparing for influx of Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia

Rexhepi and her family were forced from their home and fled to a refugee camp in Macedonia. From there, she, her husband Zeqirja and five of their six children made the journey to Canada. Their eldest daughter moved to Switzerland.

They were among 2,500 Kosovar refugees who arrived at CFB Greenwood that May, as part of Operation Parasol.

“I was so sad leaving everything behind,” she recalled.

“But I was so emotional, happy emotional. When we arrived people [were] waving at us, with open heart and smile and big hugs. That made a huge difference.”

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

Rexhepi recalls how friendly volunteers were and how much support she received from the Canadian Red Cross and the organization know known as Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).

She also remembers how difficult it was making the adjust to life in Nova Scotia, especially since the family didn’t speak English.

Finding success in a new home

The family stayed at a the Windsor Park military base and eventually made a home in Dartmouth.

Slowly, but surely, they learned English. She made a cold call to a local hair salon, got a job and then opened up her business one year later in 2002.

Her husband resumed his work as an artist and is know a well-known painter and teacher in the city.

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Their children are all successful professionals and Rexhepi now has 13 grandchildren.

When she sees images of the refugees fleeing from the current situation in Syria, she’s reminded of her own family’s struggles.

“It’s not going to be easy for them. I know it’s going to be very tough,” she said.

“There will be times when their mood is going to be okay…and there will be times when their mood will go down.”

Nearly 17 years after getting off that plane at CFB Greenwood, Rexhepi says it’s her turn now to welcome those in need to Canada.

“Everybody deserves to live a happy joyful life like my grandkids,” she said.

“It’s not their fault. These people who are running from one place to another they are looking for peace, love and support and those are very important.”

© 2015 Shaw Media

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