The Aarafat family from Syria gather with Yukon Cares members in October 2016

Fiona Azizaj will be the guest speaker at this year’s Yukon Cares Annual General Meeting (AGM).
In 1993, during the Yugoslav Wars that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia, Azizaj and her parents fled Kosovo to Germany when she was months old. They later settled in Whitehorse in 2003. She will provide details and answer questions about what her family went through to get here and become established in Whitehorse.

Yukon Cares is an independent, grassroots based and volunteer driven humanitarian organization. The main goal is to respond to the global refugee crisis through education, advocacy and resettlement of refugees in Yukon. Yukon Cares chatted with Azizaj to learn more about her experience as a refugee coming to the Yukon and she will elaborate further and answer more questions from the audience at the AGM.

Why did your family come to Canada and why Whitehorse?

Fiona’s parents (right) pictured with her as a baby on the day they left Kosovo in 1993

My parents and I escaped the genocide/war in Kosovo in the fall of 1993 to Germany. We lived in Germany until 2003 before moving to Whitehorse. The reason we had to come to Canada is because the German government told us in 1999 that “the conflict in Kosovo was over” and so we were required to either be deported back to our country, or find somewhere else to move.

My father did some extensive research to figure out some options for us. He looked into Australia, Iceland and Canada where he then decided on Canada, and then he chose to research further into the Yukon and Newfoundland. I believe the main reason for these two destinations came from job opportunities (my father is a registered nurse).

After seeing photos of the Yukon and doing more research, he decided that we would love the area with all its vast nature, openness and ample opportunity for jobs for all of us in the future.

Once he decided on Whitehorse, he went through the Yukon nominee program whereby we connected with a local church here – Our Lady of Victory in Porter Creek – that helped bring us over here.

With the help of this church and the wider Whitehorse community, we were able to move here in February of 2003.

When did you come to Canada?

We arrived in Canada on February 6 of 2003 in Vancouver and flew to Whitehorse the next day, arriving on February 7 of 2003.

How old were you at the time?

I was less than a month shy of 10 years old

Did your parents manage to find work?

Both of my parents were able to find work almost immediately. My father first started working at Macaulay Lodge and Copper Ridge Place as a nursing home attendant since Registered Nurses (RN) are required to redo their exams in any given country once they’ve moved there. After studying and retaking the exam, he started working as an RN at Macaulay Lodge and Copper Ridge Place. He has since worked his way up to become a manager of resident care in the Continuing Care Division across Whitehorse.

To sum up, he has been working with the Department of Health and Social Services since April of 2003. He has also taught a Cognitive and Mental Challenges Course at the Yukon College Whitehorse Campus.

My mother, who was completing her studies in electrical engineering before the war in Kosovo broke out, first started working at Walmart in the shoe department for the first few months after our arrival. It wasn’t long before she got switched to the pharmacy department at Walmart, where she got promoted as a pharmacy technician.

After working as a pharmacy technician for over a decade, she applied for a job as a pharmacare officer with the Chronic Disease Program at Health and Social Services and got the position. She has been there for the past few years.

What did you do after high school?

Once I graduated from Porter Creek Secondary School in 2011, I moved to Ottawa that fall to attend Carleton University where I studied an honours double major Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications and Media Studies and Political Science.

I moved back to Whitehorse in December of 2016 and initially worked at the Yukon News. As of September of 2017, I’ve been working as a communications analyst for the Government of Yukon.

Outside of my career, I sit on numerous non-profit boards for communications (Mental Health Association of Yukon, Paradise Electronic Music Festival Society, Free the Beat Foundation, and of course, Yukon Cares). I am actively involved in the arts community as well, having performed with Nakai Theatre, the Guild Hall, as well as with Jazz Yukon’s Cafe des Voix. My parents have lived here since we arrived in 2003 – and I don’t believe they ever plan to move – and also regularly volunteer in the community.

Yukon Cares will be holding its Annual General Meeting from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Whitehorse Public Library on Wednesday, May 16.

Continuing to care