'It's a gift': Separated by war, siblings reunite for Christmas in Canada

Three families separated by the war in Syria are spending their first Christmas together in 15 years.

As Canada welcomes Syrian refugees arriving daily, many are reuniting with families they haven’t seen in a long time.

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That includes the Panossian family, who are grateful to be spending Christmas together under one roof after being worlds apart for so many years.

Maria Panossian and her husband Harout Abajian, of Toronto, sponsored Maria’s two siblings, Mego and Betty Panossian, and their families, to bring them to Canada. The Syrian-Armenians arrived in early October.

It was a long journey from their homes in Aleppo, Syria. The families fled to Lebanon in 2011. Finally, in October, they arrived on the doorstep of their relatives living in Toronto.

“It’s not easy, but Canada is a great country,” said Mego.

Maria said it is an “amazing feeling” to have her loved ones at her home for Christmas, after years “without having any celebration” with extended family.

Maria’s sister, Betty, came with her husband and two adult sons after life in war-torn Syria changed everything.

“Life became upside down, it turned,” Betty said. “ We felt very uncomfortable, unsafe -- and without a home.”

Getting to Canada was anything but easy – even for family members who were a world away from the conflict.

“We were sitting in front of the TV 24/7, watching the news,” said Maria’s husband, Harout Abajian. “When you have your close family over there, and you don’t know what’s going to happen every minute.

“They were bombing, shelling.”

Despite having arrived in Canada, life isn’t easy just yet.

Mego, who came to Canada with his wife and two young daughters, said his family is still adjusting to their new life.

“Everything is new. The names … the streets, the system is new,” Mego said. “It’s so difficult.”

Betty said all the initial hardships have been worth it.

“It is a gift that me and my family reached Toronto, Canada,” she said.

As the siblings and their families prepare for Christmas Eve on Thursday, the house will become even more crowded. Approximately 20 additional family members from the U.S. and Montreal are also coming to celebrate.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Mego. “I’m so hopeful, I’m so happy that we are celebrating Christmas and New Year’s together after almost 15 years.”

Maria added: “It’s joy -- actually it’s a blessing for me.”



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