A conversation with Canadian Press reporter Maan Alhmidi
By Yasmine Saker
March of 2022 marked eleven years since the beginning of the conflict in my home country, Syria, a milestone I hoped we never got to commemorate.
While thousands of people are forced to flee their homes every day due to violence and climate disasters around the world, the Syrian refugee crisis continues to be the world’s largest displacement crisis. More than 5.6 million refugees remain in neighbouring countries, while another one million are dispersed around the world.
Canada is considered a global leader in resettlement and has welcomed over 73,000 Syrian refugees to start new lives in over 350 communities across Canada.
Fellow Syrian Canadian, Maan Alhmidi, is one of them.
A lawyer by training, Maan was forced to flee his hometown of Aleppo back in 2014 as violence escalated across the country, seeking safety in Turkey for three years, before eventually being resettled to Canada in 2017.
Today, Maan holds a master’s degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa and is a reporter with the Canadian Press news agency. Earlier this year, he received his Canadian citizenship.
From lawyer to journalist, you have had quite the career shift; why did you choose to get into journalism?
I actually find that law and journalism are similar in the way they both have the public interest at heart. Journalism allows me to shed the light on people’s struggles, tell their stories and highlight instances of injustice they face. It was this common theme that first got me interested in journalism when I arrived in Canada and pushed me to pursue a degree in journalism as well as several opportunities with prominent news outlets across the country and finally with the Canadian Press in Toronto.
What are some of the challenges you faced in your new life in Canada?
One stereotypical challenge frequently cited is the Canadian winters, but they don’t bother me.
On the other hand, while I didn’t face any language challenges since I speak English fluently, it was certainly challenging to start over from scratch. Having to rebuild my credentials, education and network sometimes felt like I was repeating life phases. For example, while I was doing my master’s at Carleton, I was among the oldest students and would think to myself, “I’ve already been through all of this back in Syria,” but I never regretted it. On the contrary, I enjoyed every aspect of this new opportunity.
Another challenge has been having to learn everything about a new country including its politics, laws, and culture, but also the smallest details of everyday life.
What are some of the things that you like about your new life in Canada?
I love that I got to travel inside Canada a lot, in large part thanks to my new career in journalism. I’ve visited so many places and met interesting people through the stories I’ve worked on, and I think it was a great way to understand the country.
One thing I love about Canada is the diversity. It’s so rich with different communities, each with their own unique cultures, rituals, and festivals which I like to get to know. It also makes you open to other people’s backgrounds and experiences.
Has anything changed in your life since you’ve become a citizen earlier this year?
The two things I have been looking forward to after becoming a Canadian citizen are voting and travelling outside the country, but I haven’t been able to do either yet.
How do you see Canada’s response to global displacement in general but specifically to Syrian refugees?
Canada is a global leader in resettlement and its private sponsorship programme is a unique model that should serve as an example for other countries around the world.
My own experience has been very positive; I’ve seen a generally positive sentiment towards refugees in general but also a lot of sympathy towards Syrian refugees at the community level, where many people are volunteering, donating, and doing whatever they can to help.
What is “home” to you?
This is a complicated question but with a very simple answer to me. Home is the place where you have loved ones and memories, and by this definition, you can have multiple homes. Both Syria and Canada are home to me; I belong to the two and they both contribute to my identity.
With people forced to flee their homes every day around the world as new conflicts erupt, how can you, as a journalist, contribute to counter media fatigue towards protracted conflicts like the Syrian crisis?
Well, I personally always try to find new angles to tell the story. It’s a fact that people can’t focus on several crises at once, which unfortunately is the case in today’s world of multiple conflicts. So, I go beyond the numbers to put a human face that people will identify with and tell a unique story that will revive people’s interest.
How has your own experience of living through conflict impacted your reporting?
Living through conflict and displacement has enriched my reporting, especially currently while talking to families from Afghanistan and Ukraine, who have recently arrived in Canada. I know what they’re going through, and make sure to tell them so, which has impacted how I build rapport with them and tell their stories.
But the other side of this has been reliving my own trauma with every interview I do. It’s difficult, but I’m learning to accept it as my reality and past and move forward to what is coming. This is what’s important – the future.
UNHCR is on the ground inside Syria and in neighbouring host countries, providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to over 6.9 million internally displaced people who remain inside the country, and over 5.6 million refugees in neighbouring host countries. Over a decade of conflict has seen needs increase, including for shelter, education, healthcare, and winter assistance. You can help us make a difference by donating here.