Amid grim stories of Syrian refugees, some rays of hope emerge
Every day in Syria, 5,000 people are forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives. Canada is getting closer to meeting its goal of giving 25,000 Syrian refugees a place to start new lives. Nearly 24,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada or have finalized their paperwork and are getting ready to land here.
There is some good news amidst what's being called the worst humanitarian crisis of our age. Many Syrian refugees are getting a warm welcome in Canada. Take a look at some of these inspiring stories that highlight the resilience of these refugees as they start over in an unfamiliar country:
Community groups welcoming refugees
PEI has attracted several Syrian refugees with the hope that they'll choose to stay to bump up the island's population — 128 refugees have arrived in PEI since November. According to the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, these refugees are successfully integrating into the community: "The kids are getting into school, the parents are starting their English classes at the English schools, and I would say the resettlement process is going very well at this point," Craig Mackie, the association's executive director, told CBC News. The association works with the provincial government to welcome refugees through The Welcome Project, coordinating donations and helping newcomers get to know their new communities.
Gay Syrian refugees finding freedom in Canada
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, single men who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender are among the most vulnerable if they remain in Syria. This couldn't be more true for 32-year-old Syrian refugee Rasheed, who left his country following homophobic threats from police. He tells The Star that police beat him and blindfolded him, saying things like, “‘We’re going to castrate you... We’re going to rape you. You’ll never see this world again.'" He's adjusting well to life in Toronto, where he finds people are much more open-minded about his sexuality: “I find it very respectful,” Rasheed said. “Whenever I say I’m gay, or whenever I go to gay places, in the society itself, they respect you for being gay.”
Teen refugees overcoming trauma in Canada
A program working to help teenage refugees from Syria in Burnaby, BC, Body Worlds and the Brain, is using unconventional methods to help Syrian youth overcome traumatic experiences, eschewing counselling for activities like rope climbing and kung fu. "We're approaching trauma with play," settlement worker Haval Ahmad tells CBC. This program is crucial because these youths have had experiences that Canadian kids can't even fathom — many have experienced bombings and bloodshed first-hand. "The impact is huge," said Ahmad.
Refugees welcomed with flowers and gifts at airport
In Thunder Bay, Ontario, a refugee family was recently shocked and pleased to find a welcoming party waiting for them at the airport. Thunder Bay's Right to Refuge group from the Grassroots Church greeted Nassim Al Kweyder, his wife and their four children with flowers, a teddy bear and signs with welcoming messages in both Arabic and English. "They're amazed," Al Kweyder told CBC News using a translator. "They did not expect any of this, and they're very surprised, and they're thankful that they're in Thunder Bay, surrounded with all these nice people."
Syrian refugees opening new businesses
People across the globe were shocked and saddened by the death of Alan Kurdi, the toddler whose lifeless body, photographed on a beach, made headlines everywhere. But Canadians were happy to hear his extended family has settled into a new life in British Columbia. The Kurdis recently opened a new hair salon, which received warm support from the community. Alan's aunt, Tima Kurdi, worked with her community to sponsor her brother Mohammad, his wife and five children to come to BC. Tima told CBC that the family was overwhelmed by all the positive support from Canadians during this difficult time in their lives.
Donations helping refugees start new lives
In Calgary, organizers and volunteers with the Syrian Refugees Support Group were overwhelmed by the number of donations they received from locals at a donation drive before Christmas. "The treatment from the Canadian people and all the welcome — it is overwhelming," refugee George Nachef told CBC News through his brother, who translated. "I feel like home here," he said.
How can you help welcome Syrian refugees?
You can donate money or household and personal care items to organizations helping refugees, sponsor a refugee or volunteer your time with community groups helping Syrian newcomers in your area. Find out more here.