Winnipeg's newest Syrian refugees hope for 'a great life here in Canada'
Hamidi family spent many months in refugee camp in Turkey after fleeing war-torn home
Winnipeg's newest family from Syria expressed great relief at the airport Tuesday to see smiling, welcoming Canadian faces after spending several months in a refugee camp in Turkey.
Hasan Hamidi held his youngest son's hand as he descended the stairs to the arrivals area at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, his wife and three other sons close behind.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he embraced the man holding a sign with the family's name written in both Arabic and English. It was Naser Ibrahim, the family's translator, who belongs to the University of Manitoba's Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, the group of faculty and students that privately sponsored the family to Canada.
"He's very happy to be here," Ibrahim said, translating for Hasan Hamidi, whose sons range in age from seven to 13 years old. The boys clutched stuffed animals given to them by people who greeted them.
"They were so scared that they would not find anyone to receive them, but they really appreciate the fact that we are here and we are here to receive them." he translated for Hasan's wife, Kevser Abduvahid.
The family said their months spent in the refugee camp were difficult, and they worked hard there to afford the basics and struggled to survive.
Home, in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, is harder to talk about.
"His house was completely destroyed in Syria, bombarded, basically there's no house anymore, it's completely destroyed," said the interpreter, translating for 13-year-old Salih Hamidi.
The family's home in Aleppo was bombed twice, explained Salih. After the second attack, the Red Cross helped the family flee Syria for Turkey two years ago.
When asked how Canadians could help him adjust to his new home, his answer was simple.
"His first concern is to be safe, and if he's in a safe house, no war around him, that's all he's dreaming about. To be safe."
'It's not this family, it's any family'
The idea to sponsor a refugee family came to Alan Katz last spring, after seeing images of the exodus of refugees in Europe. Katz is director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and is leading the Refugee Response project.
"People pushed onto trains, fighting to get the help they need," he said, of the suffering he saw. "I reached out to my colleagues and said, 'We need to do something about this.'"
He said some are helping the family with their education, language and health needs while others, including students, came together to raise the $35,000 required to privately sponsor the family. The Mennonite Central Committee supported them in the process of privately sponsoring a family from Syria, he added.
They only found out last month that it was the Hamidis they would help.
"It's not this family, it's any family," he said. "It didn't matter to us. We are able to support people in need."
The family is living in a house in the south end of the city temporarily, but they're looking to find a three-bedroom apartment in the same area, where there are many connected to the university who can support them.
Katz says he understands how the family feels, as he fled South Africa, and apartheid, for Canada many years ago.
"This is one tiny little bit that I'm feeling very emotional about: being able to help this family have a better life."
Seven-year-old Yahya Hamidi had never been on a plane before, and looks forward to going swimming in a lake when it warms up. He smiles when answering what he wants most from his new life in Canada.
"He would like to go to school," he said, through the translator.
The family thanked the University of Manitoba group for bringing them to Canada, as well as everyone who gathered to greet them. Hasan Hamidi, who is a pastry chef and baker, is eager to start working in Canada once they get settled.
The family was exhausted after traveling more than two days to reach Winnipeg, but Salih was all smiles when talking about his future.
"He says he feels really good and he thinks that he's going to have a great life here in Canada."