Syrian refugee crisis prompts memories of Kosovar airlift
In 1999 about 5,000 Kosovar refugees were flown to Canada
Waves of Syrian refugees continue to make a desperate escape from their war-torn country in search of somewhere safe but how many refugees Canada has accepted since the civil war broke out is not clear.
Critics say it's a drop in the bucket.
Canada took a very different approach in 1999 when Kosovar refugees were fleeing the war in their homeland.
Operation Parasol brought about 5,000 Kosovars to Canada, split equally between Nova Scotia's CFB Greenwood and Ontario's CFB Trenton.
The refugees were flown and processed here by the Canadian military, rather than having to wait months or even years overseas.
Ismael Aquino was one of the many people who worked on Operation Parasol and is now provincial director with the Canadian Red Cross. In 1999, he was the operation's manager of community response.
He told CBC's Mainstreet they had about a month to prepare for the arrival of the refugees — all 2,500 that landed at CFB Greenwood.
Aquino said the Red Cross was there to provide food, clothing, shelter and translation help, but the emotional support they provided was just as important.
He said when many of the refugees arrived, they had just come from refugee camps where the conditions were not the best.
"They would be tired and hungry ... our Red Cross workers were prepared to assist them and help them through the process," Aquino said.
'It was eye opening'
The operation ran from May to August and he admits with flights coming every 24 hours, at times, it was overwhelming.
"Plus, you're getting the overwhelming support from the community, in terms of donations. Even things like bicycles, for example, so that the children had something," he said.
About 1,000 volunteers committed to the many long days and long nights.
Aquino said there are some moments that stand out for him.
He remembers the first baby born a Canadian citizen and said it was a joyous occasion for the whole base.
Another highlight was when the refugees put on shows featuring singing and dancing in an effort to share their culture.
"It was eye opening for a lot of us, in terms of understanding people who were coming from overseas, and also dispelling some of our myths around people who would have been in refugee camps," he said.
Aquino said people in Nova Scotia at that time had a lot of sympathy and willingness to help. He thinks the same support would be here now for Syrian refugees.
He said if the federal government were to decided to stage a similar operation for Syrian refugees, he has no doubt the Red Cross could assist in a similar way.