Nova Scotia

Syrian refugees in Halifax rally to help Fort McMurray

A group of Syrian families in Halifax have pooled what little money they have to give back to people displaced by the wildfire in Fort McMurray. The government-assisted refugees collected more than $500 and presented it to the Canadian Red Cross.

'We felt the pain of the people who suffered in that fire,' says Ammar Turkmani

Ammar Turkmani, a Syrian refugee, presented more than $500 to the Canadian Red Cross on behalf of 17 Syrian families living in Halifax. The money will go toward helping those displaced by the wildfire in Fort McMurray. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

Five months after stepping off an airplane into a foreign land with only the clothes on their backs, 17 Syrian refugee families in Halifax are giving back.

From their new apartments on Abbey Road, they watched the devastating fire footage in Fort McMurray earlier this month. Ammar Turkmani says they all felt compelled to help those forced to flee their homes.

"We felt the pain of the people who suffered in that fire," he said through an interpreter. "We experienced this kind of pain and we suffered when we were in Syria, and so we know what it means to be hurt."

Turkmani presented the cash — more than $500 in total — to the Canadian Red Cross. All donations were made by government-assisted refugees, who don't have jobs and barely speak English.

"My friends and neighbours, even they wanted to offer much, much more, but some of them did not have money," Turkmai said.

He says some were able to pitch in up to $100, and one man even gave up his treasured $20 U.S. bill.

Adjusting to Canada

Turkmani, 33, along with his wife and five children, are all "very excited about being in Canada." He says being so close to other Syrian families helps with the transition. 

"We even have a playground, and we all go down to the playground with our children and have fun together, so we're adapting well," said Turkmani.

He remains unemployed as he continues to focus on learning English. Meanwhile, he says his children are soaking up lessons in the classroom.

"Even when I tell them 'You have a doctor's appointment,' they'll be very mad because they're going to miss school," said Turkmani.

"We're really very happy here and as a matter of fact, I don't know how to express our feelings towards Canadians who have welcomed us."