Syrian refugee family arrives in Halifax to welcoming party and politicians
'It was the best welcome,' the Al Habash family told reporters on Wednesday
A throng of well-wishers gathered at Halifax's airport Wednesday and shared smiles and tears as a privately-sponsored Syrian family stepped off a plane from Toronto and into view in the arrivals area.
The Al Habash family, sponsored by a refugee committee from Saint Benedict's Catholic Church, has been living in Lebanon for the last two years after they were displaced by conflict in Syria's capital of Damascus.
Lena Diab, Nova Scotia's Immigration Minister, translated for the couple and their kids, aged five and four.
"First and foremost, they want to thank that welcome. It was the best welcome they could have received," Diab said, speaking for Mohamed Al Habash's first thoughts on being in Nova Scotia.
Al Habash also thanked the church, the politicians that greeted them, and "the Canadian people for agreeing to bring them here."
"It is very emotional, it's very moving to see a family that is so grateful and so happy to be in a place that's safe and where there's opportunity for them in the future," said Geoff Regan, a Nova Scotia MP and newly-elected Speaker of the House of Commons.
The family of four was supposed to land in Halifax on Dec. 10, but reasons for the delay are not yet known.
The committee has made a commitment to help the family through their first year in the province. They've raised $20,000 in that effort.
This is not their first welcoming party, however. They've been bringing refugees to Nova Scotia since 2004.
"It's overwhelming for the family, of course, and it's overwhelming for the committee. But it's a good overwhelming, not a bad overwhelming," said committee coordinator Chris Yetman.
Between Dec. 1 and the family's original arrival date, the committee managed to arrange an apartment in Clayton Park.
Patricia Erickson, another member of the committee, said on the way down from the gate the family asked her if they were going to a hotel.
"I said, 'No, you're going home,'" Erickson explained through tears. "They've had a hard time, a hard week and the idea that they'll go to where they're going to stay and not have to move again is just overwhelming."
The family says they're not worried about the cold of their first Canadian winter.
"The warmth will keep us warm," Al Habash said.