Syrian refugees leave Yukon in search of greener pastures

"We’re celebrating that both of the families had the strength and the ability and the courage to live out their ambitions," said Hillary Gladish of the Riverdale Baptist Church in Whitehorse.

Whitehorse's Riverdale Baptist Church sponsored two families since 2016, and both have now moved south

Mohamed and Shereen Omar and their two children are Syrian refugees who moved to Whitehorse last spring, sponsored by the Riverdale Baptist Church. They have since moved to Calgary. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The Riverdale Baptist Church sponsored and welcomed two refugee families to Whitehorse — the first in late 2016 and the second early last year — and has since said goodbye to both of them.

"We're looking at this as something that is very positive," said Hillary Gladish, who speaks for the church.

Gladish said both families have moved to southern Canada. The Ahmet family, who first arrived in Yukon in September 2016, has now moved to Windsor, Ont. The Omar family arrived in Whitehorse last spring and has since moved to Calgary.

The private sponsorships were organized by the Riverdale Baptist Church, with financial help from the Yukon government and a local charitable group, Yukon Cares. The church committed to sponsoring each family for their first full year in Canada, so it's still supporting the Omar family from afar, until March. 

'We’re celebrating that both of the families had the strength and the ability and the courage to live out their ambitions,' said Hillary Gladish of the Riverdale Baptist Church. (CBC)

"We've all really created close bonds with both the families in different ways, and just like anyone who decides to leave Whitehorse, it's sad to see your friends go. However, you recognize that there's different opportunities and different places," Gladish said.

"The way that the church community is looking at it is that we're celebrating that both of the families had the strength and the ability and the courage to live out their ambitions," Gladish said.

Better work prospects

She says the Omars moved to Calgary because Mohamed Omar, a geologist with decades of experience working in the Syrian oil fields, believed he would have a better chance of finding work in his field there. His wife, Shereen Omar, has already found work teaching English, and their eldest son has started school.

The Ahmet family, meanwhile — who spent five years in a Turkish refugee camp before coming to Canada — went to Windsor to join a larger community of Syrian-Canadians there, Gladish says.

Muhammed and Sadik Ahmet joined the Whitehorse Minor Soccer, barely a month after arriving as refugees from Syria. The Ahmet family now lives in Windsor, Ont. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

"Yaser, the father, felt that his chances of finding work as a mechanic were better," she said.

Gladish says the church has no current plans to sponsor any more refugees.

Yukon Cares, meanwhile, has said it's raised enough money to sponsor two more families. Yukon Cares was the first local organization to sponsor a family of Syrian refugees. The Aarafat family arrived in Whitehorse nearly two years ago, and moved to Windsor last summer.

With files from Dave Croft