Smiles, toys and tuques as Hamilton welcomes first refugees

Seventeen government-assisted Syrian refugees have come to Hamilton to start a new life.

Just days ago, these 17 Syrians were in a refugee camp in Jordan.

A little girl holds a box with new dolls and the girl's mother wipes a tear from her eye after they arrived in Hamilton Monday. In total, 17 Syrian refugees who have been living in a camp in Jordan came to the city. (Kate Bueckert)

As her daughter held on to a bright pink box with four new dolls, a mother wiped tears from her eyes.

The touching scene was made even more so for many in the room because just days ago, this Syrian family was in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Dressed in winter coats, boots and tuques, the 17 newest residents to Hamilton - two families and one individual - arrived at Wesley Urban Ministries on Catharine St., their newest temporary home just before noon on Monday.

It just makes you know you're doing the right thing.- MP Filomena Tassi

They had travelled from Jordan to Pearson Airport in Toronto Sunday evening, Wesley Urban executive director Daljit Garry said.

"We're happy they're here and we can start their settlement journey," Garry said after welcoming the first government-assisted refugees to the area by offering them smiles and gifts from under a Christmas tree. "We know that the community is very excited and they will do their best to welcome them."

'Doing the right thing'

MP Filomena Tassi knelt down beside some of the children and showed them how the toys worked. One little girl had a doctor's kit that sang the song, "Head and shoulders, knees and toes." While she did not understand the words, the song resulted in a toothy grin from the little girl.

Tassi said as she watched the refugees come off the bus, it was clear they were very tired, but it was heartwarming to watch the children smile and laugh over the toys and to see the parents smile and relax a little.

"It's at that moment when you connect, you feel the goodness of it," Tassi said. "It just makes you know you're doing the right thing."

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said there is lots of room and many opportunities for the newest Canadians in the city.

"We should all be very proud," he said. "We've all put a stake in the ground to be a welcoming community."

Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin agreed, saying he continually hears from people who want to help.

"It's just amazing the people out there who are reflections of the very best of Canadian values," he said after handing out Canadian and Ontario flag pins.

Unwind after a long journey

The names and ages of those who arrived Monday were not released out of respect for their situation, Garry said. It did not appear that any of them understood English, she said.

"They are feeling overwhelmed," she added.

Garry said the focus right now will be to deal with their immediate needs, such as health assessments and allowing them to unwind after a long journey.

"They haven't had a chance to do that," Garry said.

Staff at Wesley Urban don't know when more refugees will be on their way to Hamilton - they are given about 24 hours notice ahead of new arrivals - but she does not expect the excitement of bringing more people to the area will wane over time.

"I think we're happy to be in a position to help people who are in need of support," she said. "It's a great feeling."

New home for now

The suites at Wesley Urban Ministries be the home to the refugees, who landed in Canada as permanent residents, while they get set up for life in Canada, Garry said. Staff will be with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including Christmas Day, when a turkey dinner is planned.

As they arrived, they were saying thank you, Garry said.

The next days and weeks will be filled with learning about how to live in Canada, including banking, getting health cards, visits to the farmer's market and Hamilton's downtown core, as well as language classes and education.

They will also start looking for their "forever homes," Garry said.

"I think Hamilton has a lot to offer," she said. "I'm more excited to see what is exciting to them."

But the families are also looking forward to getting a chance to experience some truly Canadian experiences.

"I'm sure they'll look forward to the first snowfall. They always do," Garry said.


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