Dozens of Yukoners gathered at the Whitehorse airport Saturday to welcome Yukon's newest residents: a family of 11 Syrian refugees who are the first to settle in the North under the current sponsorship program.
The family was greeted with cheers as they walked into the terminal following their flight from Vancouver. They're being sponsored by Yukon Cares, a community group that partnered with the local Catholic diocese.
"I feel like I'm having a baby, but it's a whole family," said Raquel de Queiroz, director of Yukon Cares.
"[I'm] so excited that they're here and can't wait to make them feel at home. And they're safe, they're home now, so this is a project that the whole community has put together, and I'm just so happy that everybody's here to welcome them."
The family has children ranging in age from 16 months to 21 years old. They will move into a four-bedroom house in Whitehorse that's furnished and fully stocked.
"We have the pantry stocked, and they have food ready, and the volunteers cooked wonderful food for them," Queiroz said. "And then we just want them to rest, and then tomorrow we'll meet with them again, and help them sort out some clothing and find things that fit them and start their new life."
Queiroz said it will be a two-year process to get the family settled. The federal government will provide up to six months of income support, while Yukon Cares will cover the rest.
The family speaks only Arabic, so language education will be a priority during the early months. That will help the children get ready for school as soon as they're able, Queiroz said.
"I feel that I'm really meeting my family right now," said Yukon Cares translator Ehab Alhag Hissen.
'They were pretty happy'
Advance word of the family's arrival was limited to a handful of Yukon Cares volunteers, politicians and First Nations leaders for security reason and so as not to overwhelm the family, Queiroz said.
Among the dignitaries on hand was Yukon's MP Larry Bagnell.
"You see this baby and the young girls carrying the baby around, and you can't even imagine what it would be like without a home or belongings or anything," he said. "And so they were pretty happy that someone here was waiting to greet them, both in Vancouver and of course here."
In addition to food, clothing and housing, volunteers have also donated winter activities for the family, including trips to the Takhini hot springs and the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.