Sponsors stand by Syrian refugee accused of sexually assaulting six Edmonton teenagers

On February 2, 2018 a trial wrapped up for 40 year old Soleiman Hajj Soleiman, a Syrian refugee and father of six, who is accused of sexually assaulting six teenage girls at the West Edmonton Mall water park a year ago.

Soleiman, who was arrested after the teenagers complained to the lifeguard about being inappropriately touched while swimming, is facing six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual interference.

According to a CBC report, members of the River City Refugee Project, an organization which sponsored Soleiman’s refugee application, are standing by him in spite of the accusations.

“We’re all waiting to find out what the facts are”, said Dave Trautman, one of the 30 sponsors. “I’m not really focused on what he’s accused of. I want to show him that he has a community.”

A post on the River City Refugee Facebook page dated December 31, 2016, says “Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the arrival of our family from Syria. We’ve all learned and shared and worried and laughed, and proved once again that different languages, cultures and religions must never be barriers when it comes to doing the right thing with open hearts.”

“This family of eight has done an amazing job of settling in and enthusiastically learning the language and the culture. Dad wants to finish Level 4 English before he looks for work, which isn’t too far away. Mum is doing splendidly at school, and admits that one day down the road she’d love to cook her delicious Syrian food in a restaurant. The six children are bright and thriving and, with their parents, are set to live peaceful, happy lives in Canada, Inshallah.”

“Thank you for your support and your interest in our group’s activities. This will be our last post. But if you have questions about sponsoring a family, feel free to message us. Peace, joy and Happy New Year!”

Two months later Soleiman, who was one of over 30,000 Syrian refugees admitted to Canada under Trudeau’s Syrian refugee program, was arrested for sexually assaulting the teenagers.

By sheer coincidence, Soleiman appears to be one of the refugees profiled by Alberta Views magazine on September 1, 2016 in an article called “Six Waves of Refugees”.

According to the article, Soleiman (spelled Suleiman), his wife and their six children come from a village in northern Syria, where he worked as a barber. In 2012, the family fled their village to Lebanon, where they lived with his brother until they moved to a refugee camp. The family stayed in the camp for a year. After the camp was demolished, they registered with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Within 20 days of registration, they were called for an interview with the Canadian Embassy and arrived in Canada on January 1, 2016.

In a personal statement given to Alberta Views for the article approximately one year before he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting teenage girls, Soleiman and his wife said “Before the war, Syria took in refugees from other Arab countries. People helped them with food and shelter. When we ourselves became refugees we understood what it meant to be a refugee. Although we would love to go back, we know we can’t. We came for the children so that they would have a future. Our sponsoring group in Edmonton makes the transition easier. It’s nice here. While Lebanon to Syria is a short trip, we feel more at home in Alberta than we did in Lebanon.”