In her past life Aziza Abu Sirdana has only known war, conflict, fear and isolation.
“If you are born in Gaza you don’t know what life is,” she told CTV National News.
The 22-year-old Palestinian refugee fled to Canada after she learned about her father and grandfather’s plans to hunt her down and kill her.
She arrived in Canada on March 24, 2022 full of hope for a new start in life. Her struggles only continued on Canadian soil.
CTV National News first sat down with Abu Sirdana at the beginning of November, after she stabbed herself in the stomach with a knife just below the ribcage while in a meeting with federal government officials with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). She said she took the dangerous step in a desperate plea to find safe housing.
For more than seven months Abu Sirdana has been stuck living in a refugee hotel west of Toronto. While staying there she, and other refugees, say they were segregated and degraded by staff working for a taxpayer-funded resettlement agency. Strangers would also arrive at the hotel and prey on Abu Sidana and others, while trying to lure them into the sex trade, she said.
Sitting on a park bench a day after being released from hospital, Abu Sirdana told CTV National News: “I put a knife in my body because no one cares. Seriously no one cares.”
But it turns out there are Canadians who do care. After the 22-year-old shared her story with CTV National News, a family reached out to refugee advocate Mona Elshayal.
“A very kind woman reached out to me who was very concerned because she has a daughter around the same age. She felt bad because she thought, what would happen if this was my daughter? She just wanted to do what she could to help her out,” shares Elshayal.
Just last week, Abu Sirdana moved into a two-bedroom condo with the family’s daughter in Ottawa. All the young refugee says she ever wanted was a space where she felt safe. An apartment with her own bathroom and washroom. She now has that and a sense of humanity and self worth that she’s never experienced.
She can’t help but smile when talking about her new surrogate mother. “She gave me a chance at life. She said I’m here for you, if you need anything call me, if you’re sick I’ll be here the next day. Can you imagine anyone being so kind?”
Abu Sirdana’s new Canadian family have asked to remain anonymous, but the mother shares that she just wanted “to give Aziza a safe place to live, in our Canada, the Canada my daughter lives in. I want Aziza to achieve her dreams.”
Abu Sirdana is quick to share that she’s Muslim, and the family who’ve welcomed her as one of her own is Jewish. An unthinkable act of kindness amid the conflict back home is now a reality here on this side of the world.
Abu Sirdana said she previously couldn’t “imagine that there’s a Jewish family, that would say ‘welcome’ (and open their doors to a Muslim from Gaza) but this is Canada. This is life in Canada.
“Here in this country you have all these people from different places all living together. You can walk where you want, speak to who you want, be friends with who you want,” she said.
Elshayal, who helped facilitate the life-changing move, said: “my hope is that she feels she’s in a safe place, that she has a family, that she has people that care about her and that she has every opportunity as she should when coming to Canada.”
Abu Sirdana had to put her university education on hold and now hopes to continue her studies, and her life.
“I feel reborn,” she said, adding that previously, “I didn’t know what love is, I didn’t know what life is.
Thanks to the generosity of one Canadian family she can now look forward to experiencing it.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.
Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)
Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)
Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)