A Canadian woman and her Syrian husband are speaking out from a Damascus suburb because they’re frightened and desperate to flee the escalating danger together. They’re distraught because her government is doing nothing to help.

“All we want to do is leave here. We want to just go to Canada and have a normal life,” said Anya Sass, who was born and raised in Calgary.

“We are living in fear every day … I feel like it’s not being taken seriously. They are just saying, ‘Sorry you are in a war zone — but that’s too bad. We have a lot of paperwork to do.'”

Sass said she was travelling through the Middle East three years ago, on a break from post-secondary studies, when she met Habib Alibrahim, fell in love, and married him.


“I never made it further than Syria,” she said, with a smile. “It’s not easy living here right now — but it’s actually a lot harder to be away from him.”

Alibrahim is an engineering student who says he is secular and has absolutely no connection to terrorism. He asked Go Public not to publish which sect his family is from, because its members are targeted by both rebels and terrorists.

“I feel my life is in danger,” said Alibrahim. “Her life as well. Because we are married. She is married to me. She is married to a person from this religious minority.”

Visa applications denied, delayed

He applied for a temporary visa to come to Canada with Sass, but was denied. Sass then applied to sponsor him to come home with her permanently, but has been told approval will take two years.

“In this country we don’t know what’s going to happen the next hour. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Two years is a really long time,” said Sass.

Jaramana BulletsBullet casings found on the streets around Sass and Alibrahim’s home. (Anya Sass)

The couple lives in Jeramana, outside Damascus, which they said is under constant shell fire. They said people have been shot dead right in front of their building and bullets have landed right outside.

“I am tired of waking up in fear every day and living in fear every day and having every day some kind of scare — where something really close to us happens,” said Sass.

“I just want to have a normal life with my wife — away from sounds of bombardments, away from the sounds of shelling, away from gunfire,” said Alibrahim.

In recent days, they said, the neighbourhood was in a panic because of a false rumour that an armed group from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was closing in. ISIS fighters have engaged Syrian rebel groups in nearby areas.

ISIS threat at their door

“They have kidnapped a lot of people — and shot others — so the people of Jeramana are so scared,” said Alibrahim.

“Literally running down the streets to the highway to get out of here, they were so afraid,” said Sass. “We didn’t know what to do. We packed our bag and we put it next to the door.”

His temporary visa application was denied last year. Because Syria is a war zone, the visa officer said he didn’t believe Alibrahim would ever return home.

Jaramana SmokeGunfire and smoke can be seen and heard from Sass and Alibrahim’s balcony in Jeramana, near Damascus. (Anya Sass)

“This application is closed,” said the rejection letter from the Canadian embassy in Beirut. “Should you wish to reapply, I would suggest that you do so only if your situation has changed substantively.”

Sass has since pleaded with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to fast-track her separate application to sponsor Alibrahim. It hasn’t budged from its 24-month processing time, which applies to all spousal sponsorship applications from Syria.

“Your spouse’s application is in queue for an officer’s review at the visa office in Amman,” said a letter from the minister this month. “Please be assured that this application is being processed as expeditiously as circumstances permit.”