Two recently-reunited Syrian refugee families were the guests of honour at a very special Christmas party on Saturday, put on by the group who sponsored one of the families to Canada.
The Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project held the Christmas dinner Saturday afternoon at the Windsor Community Centre.
Muhammad and Magdi Alsliman arrived in Canada in March, sponsored by the Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project.
Ten days ago, Muhammad's brother Ahmed and Magdi's sister Mariam — who are married to each other — arrived in Winnipeg with their own family, the result of government sponsorship.
Muhammad and Magdi met them at the airport for an unforgettable reunion.
"Just cry. Just cry. I don't see my family for four years," Magdi said of the meeting.
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Houses bombed in Syria
All four Alslimans and their children are from Palmyra in Syria. They haven't seen each other since both their homes were bombed in 2013 and they lost everything.
After the bombing, Muhammad and Magdi fled to a refugee camp in Jordan, where they spent three years before being sponsored to Canada by the Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project. The couple have four children, including a set of triplets.
Ahmed and Mariam were inside their home with their three kids when it was bombed. Ahmed had to dig his family out and they fled to a refugee camp in Turkey, where they were selected for federal government sponsorship several months after Muhammad and Magdi arrived in Canada.
Son hasn't spoken since bombing
"Families are so close in Syria and the women stay at home and raise the children together, so they were so happy to be together," said Erika Kreis, who is with the Winnipeg Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Project.
"But within a day of arriving, both men said 'We want to work.' We told them, 'You need to learn English first.'"
Since arriving in March, Muhammad and Magdi Alsliman have been taking English language programming and their children have been in school. They live in an apartment in Ste. Anne, Man.
One of the triplets, a five-year-old boy, has autism. He spoke all the time in Syria, his father said, before the bombing began. But since the bombing started all around their home, he hasn't uttered a word.
Muhammad hopes now that he lives in a safe country his son will one day speak again.
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'Thank you for everything'
Magdi and Muhammad said the sponsorship group has supported them since they arrived, and they know the community will help their siblings thrive as well.
Ahmed and Mariam are living at Welcome Place for now.
"After one year I like everything in Canada," said Magdi. "I'm grateful for Canada, and my sponsor is family."
Their siblings are like them when they first arrived — not able to speak a word of English, but grateful to be safe.
"It's helpful. I'm very happy my brother [is] here. I like everybody here, but my brother now — it's safety," Muhammad said. "In Jordan [and] in Turkey, very difficult to live."
Muhammad and Magdi's sponsorship group threw the Christmas party for both families and had traditional food — halal chicken instead of turkey — and gifts.
"Thank you every people in Canada, and thank you my sponsors here," Muhammad said. "It's very, very nice — very, very helpful for my family. Thank you for everything."