Syrian refugees arrive safely in Calgary

A total of 14 Syrian refugees landed in Calgary on Thursday and were greeted by hugs and kisses from extended family members who already call Calgary home.

14 are welcomed at the Calgary Airport by their families and sponsors

Tamara Zugeb (L) welcomes her sister Rania, (R) to Calgary along with several other Syrian refugees on Thursday.

The hallway outside arrival gate B at the Calgary Airport was full of balloons, flowers, anxiety and excitement, as about two dozen people waited for the first glimpse of family members arriving from Beirut on Thursday afternoon. 

"We're so excited, but sad that they were forced to leave," said Tamara Zugeb, who was waiting for her sister, brother-in-law, and their four kids.  

"At least they will be safe, the kids will get to go back to school, and they will have a warm place to sleep in."

Zugeb says the family was living in a government controlled area of Syria's capital, Damascus, which meant they were still able to get food, but as Christians living in a Christian area they were the target of extremists. 

The family eventually fled to Beirut a couple of years ago to live with relatives,but even there Zugeb worried for their safety. 

"Anything could happen because the whole area is not safe now... they have more chances to die than live, right? " she said.

Thank you, Canada

When she finally spotted her sister Rania through the glass doors, Zugeb started to cry. Her sister doesn't speak much English, but she managed to express her gratitude.

"Thank you for Canada. Thank you," she said.

In all, 14 Syrian refugees arrived in Calgary on Thursday, sponsored through the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local Catholic parishes. 

"The whole situation with refugees is getting worse and worse, we are just so glad in Calgary we can help some," said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

Other ways to help

Birjandian says his organization has applied to support a total of 380 Syrian refugees over the past three years. So far 107 have arrived with another 16 expected later this month. That's just through private sponsorships.

He says the organization has also brought another 23 Syrian refugees to Calgary through a government-sponsored program.

"I know getting involved and doing a sponsorship, which is a very complicated process, may not be something everybody is able to do," said Birjandian.

"People just simply can become their friend, they can provide food, resources for school, they can contribute to the rent of the family, anything can help." 

In fact, he says housing will be one of the bigger issues in Calgary as more refugees arrive, and he's been working with the federal government and city officials trying to plan for the increased numbers.


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