Nova Scotia Syrian refugee settlement efforts celebrated

Syrian refugee settlement efforts were celebrated Thursday, as groups looked ahead to education and employment needs.

Groups now looking ahead to education, employment and other services for newcomers

Politicians, volunteers and new Syrian immigrants gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the end of the first refugee settlement phase. (Steven Berry/CBC)

Hundreds crowded into the ballroom at a Halifax hotel Thursday morning, giving politicians, volunteers and new Syrian immigrants a chance to share a table and exchange thanks. 

One Syrian man played a traditional song on his lute and another read poetry about his experience in Canada so far. 

"You Canadians deserve to climb up to the top of the mountains, to fly above the clouds," the poet said through an interpreter from Immigration Settlement Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). 

Muhammad Maher AlHelWani's family arrived in Halifax about a month ago. (Steven Berry/CBC)

Now that all the families have been placed, phase one of the refugee settlement effort is over, it was announced. 

"Because of your help, our children are now in school," said attendee Muhammad Maher AlHelWani, whose family arrived in Halifax about a month ago.

Mayor Mike Savage, MLA Andy Fillmore and Immigration Minister Lena Diab addressed the crowd with words of gratitude and congratulations. 

Employment, English, services next goal

For ISANS, it means their staff can take a breath and reflect on the ups and downs of the last few months, staff Wenche Gausdal said.

"The biggest challenge was not knowing when people would arrive, the size of families and when they would come. We only ever had one or two days notice of arrival," Gausdal said.

In total, more than 1,000 Syrian refugees now live in Nova Scotia, 692 among 133 families of which were government-sponsored. The rest were privately sponsored. 

Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage addressed the crowd Thursday. (Steven Berry/CBC)

Just under 20 physicians assessed the health of each and every refugee. Almost 560 people volunteered through ISANS to assist with the effort — from collecting clothes to looking after refugee children while their parents.

Still, many Syrians are in tough financial situations.

That's why stage two will focus, officials say, on finding the Syrian immigrants meaningful employment, teaching them English and connecting the new Nova Scotians with the services they need to thrive and grow.

About the Author

Steven Berry

Videojournalist

Steven Berry is a videojournalist based in Halifax. Contact him with story ideas at Steven.Berry@cbc.ca.

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