Saint John Mill Rats welcome Syrian refugees amid hoopla
Vietnamese refugee from 33 years ago invites 340 Syrian refugees to a Saint John basketball game
Hundreds of Syrian refugees got a taste of basketball in Saint John on Thursday during the annual multicultural night at the Mill Rats National Basketball League game.
Duc Luong, a Moncton businessman, bought tickets for 340 newly-arrived refugees to attend the game at Harbour Station.
"It's been 33 years since I first came to this country," said Luong.
"I think they probably have the same feeling I did when I first came."
Luong arrived in Canada as a 20-year-old Vietnamese refugee and didn't speak a word of English. He went to high school in New Brunswick and went on to earn an engineering degree in New Brunswick and remained in the province as a businessman.
"I know how hard it is for refugee families when they first come; missing home, loneliness and cold weather," he said.
Fuoad Albalhkhai, his wife and their four children were among the Syrians attending Thursday's game. It was his first exposure to basketball.
Through an interpreter, Albalhkhai indicated he is embracing New Brunswick after spending four years in Jordan and has some pretty Canadian ideas for his children's future athletic interests.
"He would like to be not only like basketball, everything. Maybe hockey, everything," said the interpreter.
The Mill Rats hold a multicultural night annually and welcome all new Canadians to show their support for the team.
"We want the refugees to stay, feel like this is their community," said Carol Kelly of the Mill Rats.
"We don't want them leaving and going to the larger centres. We even have [the] Saint John Soccer Club here because that's their sport."