Calgary

Syrian refugees start new year in Calgary with airport welcome

As the year comes to a close, some of the last Syrian refugee families are arriving at the Calgary airport, following about 1,800 others who have settled in the city.

'Who would have thought we could still sustain that much joy and enthusiasm?'

A welcoming committee greets a refugee family at the Calgary Airport last year. (CBC)

As the year comes to a close, some of the last Syrian refugee families are arriving at the Calgary airport, following about 1,800 others who have settled in the city.

A committee greeted several Syrian families at the Calgary International Airport on Thursday night, waving Canadian flags, holding welcoming signs in Arabic and English, cheering and applauding.

"You think that we are done, the whole hype is over, and look at this, one year later we still have this beautiful welcome happening in the airport," said Saima Jamal, co-founder of the Syrian Refugees Support Group.

"Who would have thought we could still sustain that much joy and enthusiasm?"

The large, welcoming crowd at the airport may be overwhelming for the newcomers, but one of the Syrian women told CBC News it's the first time she's ever felt secure in her life.

"I love Canada," she said. "Thank you Canadian people very much. We are very happy."

'Finally they are here'

Among the welcoming crowd at the airport Thursday night was Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which sponsored of one of the families. It was an emotional moment for Parker, who has waited a year and a half to meet the family.

"They were supposed to be here two months ago and we've been navigating the paperwork while they in Lebanon — in the refugee sites in Lebanon — and finally they are here."

Alberta has become home to 4,000 of the 39,000 Syrian refugees who have settled in Canada over the last year. Another 300 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in Calgary by March.

Saima Jamal, co-founder of the Syrian Refugees Support Group, says Calgarians have been very generous, donating time, household items and sponsoring families. (CBC)

Canadians have shown generosity in helping out the newcomers, said Jamal.

"Canadians have stepped up in ways we could have never imagined," she said. "Whether it is helping us out with their trucks or whether it just giving us whatever stuff they can from their house."

The first three months in Canada are the hardest for the newcomers, said Jamal.

Learning English, finding jobs and dealing with winter isolation are some of the longer-term challenges, she said.

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