Nova Scotia

'It seems impossible': Group that sponsored Syrian refugee family mourns children killed in fire

Members of the group that sponsored the Barho family's move to Canada in 2017 as Syrian refugees are grieving the loss of seven children after a fire tore through the Halifax home where they were living.

HEART Society of East Hants, N.S., sponsored the Barho family to move to Nova Scotia in 2017

Six of the Barho children, shortly after they arrived in Canada in 2017. Seven children in the Syrian refugee family died in a fire at the home where they were living in Spryfield in Halifax. (Submitted by the HEART Society)

The Nova Scotia group that had sponsored the Syrian family who had been living at the home that burned down early Tuesday morning is grieving the seven children who died.

"It seems impossible we won't hear their laughter and feel their hugs again," said Natalie Horne, a member of the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society, also known as the HEART Society. 

The Barho family arrived in September 2017, originally settling in Elmsdale, N.S., just outside Halifax. The Enfield Weekly Press posted a video of the group welcoming the family upon their arrival at the Halifax airport. 

They relocated to Halifax's Spryfield neighbourhood last year to be closer to the city, Horne said. But they were planning to move back to Elmsdale on March 1 because "the kids really missed their school."

Horne said the father, Ebraheim, is in critical condition after trying to rescue his children, who were upstairs sleeping in the rented home when the fire broke out. 

Rana Barho, 2, was among the children killed in the fire. (Submitted by the HEART Society)

He had sent the mother, Kawthar, to seek help from neighbours as the house burned, said Horne. She said Kawthar was not physically injured, but has "undergone extreme emotional stress."

"She's finding it difficult to accept what has happened, and she just repeats the name of her children over and over again and asks to see them."

The HEART Society identified the victims as:

  • Abdullah, three months old
  • Rana, 2
  • Hala, 3
  • Ola, 8
  • Mohamad, 9
  • Rola, 12
  • Ahmed, 14

Horne described Ebraheim and Kawthar as "amazingly warm and genuine people who always welcomed us into their home, and they're amazing cooks — they always wanted to feed us."

After arriving in Canada, Horne said the children had been able to "enjoy life as kids should be able to — going to school, riding bicycles, swimming, having friends, running in the yard, celebrating birthday parties and hanging out with the neighbours on their porch swing."

Flowers and stuffed animals were left by the Barho home in Spryfield during a vigil Tuesday night. (Peter Dawson/Radio-Canada)

A vigil was held for the family Tuesday night in front of what remained of the two-storey home. Dozens of mourners left stuffed animals and flowers by the property and sang Amazing Grace.

Heidi Turner and Melissa Hawks attended the vigil together. Both have lived in the neighbourhood for about seven years.

"We've all been pretty shaken to the core about what's happened here in the neighbourhood. I'm from here, I work in this area ... it's been a tough day," said Turner.

Dozens of mourners sang Amazing Grace in front of the home during a vigil for the Barho family Tuesday night. (Peter Dawson/Radio-Canada)

Hawks said she woke up Tuesday night to the sound of sirens heading toward the house. She could see the fire from her bedroom.

"I don't think there are words for a mother right now, to have lost all of her children. I hope she knows that the community is here for her and I hope over time she'll be able to become strong again," Hawks said.

Josh Crawford, a pastor with Abba Ministries of Canada, spoke at the vigil and said his mother taught two of the Barho children.

"It's just important that we pay respects to the children who lost their lives," he said.

Hala, 3, at a pumpkin patch. (Submitted by the HEART Society)

Online, people have been offering condolences to the family and have been asking how to help. Horne said it's too early to say, since the mother is "not in a position to articulate what she needs right now."

As of 7 a.m. local time Wednesday, a crowdfunding page set up for the family had raised more than to $211,000.

Jennifer Watts, CEO of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, said staff with the organization's crisis team are working with the family.

Rola, 12, and Ahmed Barho, 14, before their first middle-school dance. (Submitted by the HEART Society)

She said refugees come to Canada for a better life, which makes what happened to the Barho family especially crushing.

"I think people are so shocked and devastated. It's such heartbreaking news."

Rola with her student of the month certificate from Riverside Education Centre. She also received an end-of-year award for her hard work last year, the HEART Society said. (Submitted by the HEART Society)

Watts said now would be a good time to think about reaching out to other newcomers who came to Canada as refugees.

"They will feel I think even more sensitive to this issue in terms of what has happened about who will support them and who will be with them," Watts said.

"So it's a time, I think for all of us, to gather stock and be a supportive community with one another."

With files from Shaina Luck, Amy Smith and Olivier Lefebvre