Syrian refugees destined for Manitoba arrive in Canada on Friday

Manitoba is the final destination for 17 of the Syrian refugees in a larger group arriving in Canada on Friday.
Hundreds of Syrian refugees are set to arrive in Canada on Friday. Of those, 17 are destined to live in Manitoba — eight in Winnipeg and nine in Altona. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Some 21 Syrian refugees who will call Manitoba their new home are arriving in Canada this week.

Four refugees destined for Winnipeg landed in Toronto on Tuesday while 17 more — eight of whom will live in Winnipeg and nine headed for Altona — will arrive at Pearson International Airport on Friday.

It isn't clear yet when those who are bound for Winnipeg will arrive in the Manitoba capital. Those going to Altona, however, will walk through the doors of their new home on Saturday.

The nine refugees are members of one family — and the first of five families being sponsored by Altona's Build a Village campaign.

"We're very excited. We're really looking forward to being able to welcome the first family," said Ray Loewen, chair of the campaign.

There was very little notice of when the refugees would arrive, which left volunteers scrambling to get everything ready, he said.

"Five days ago, we had no homes at all. We had been working on all kinds of different possibilities, trying to find rental homes, and it just wasn't coming together," he said. "And then this week, all of a sudden, we've got five homes. We've got signed rental agreements for all five families."

Originally, the group was under the belief the family would arrive in early January 2016, so a lease agreement was in place for Jan. 1.

"We got the email yesterday saying, 'They're going to be here this weekend,' and so we sent a quick note to the landlord saying, 'Can we start the lease tomorrow morning?' And he said 'Sure,'" Loewen said.

"This morning we've got people busily cleaning and moving in furniture and stocking the fridge and stocking the shelves and getting the home ready. And then of course Saturday, we'll go into the airport with the welcoming group and welcome the family to Manitoba, and to Canada, then bring them back to Altona and get them settled into their new place."

The family, a husband and wife and seven children age two and 19, were living in a refugee camp in Lebanon after fleeing Syria, he said.

Loewen has been told they will not have any English language skills but that won't be a barrier, he said.

"We're really fortunate to have some of the refugee families that we've sponsored in the past continue to live on our community, and they are strong Arabic and English speakers," he said. "So we've got a number of people who can help us with that right in the community."

The Build a Village group will do everything it can to make the family comfortable after everything they have been through, Loewen said.

"When you think about travelling across the world, putting your lives in the hands of this group of people that you've never met, that you've never even heard about or know anything about, it is definitely an incredible leap of faith," he said.

It will cost the group $100,000 to sponsor the five Syrian families. Canada Immigration will pay the rest of the cost.


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