Refugee sponsors welcome Syrian family to Canada

They've only been in Canada a short while, but a group of Syrian refugees living in Brockville, Ont., is already paying it forward by sponsoring a family of eight from their homeland.

Family of 8 arrived in Ottawa Tuesday, will settle in Brockville, Ont.

Five Syrian refugee families in Brockville have come together to sponsor another family from their homeland. They welcomed the new arrivals at the Ottawa International Airport on Tuesday. 0:55

They've only been in Canada a short while, but a group of Syrian refugees living in Brockville, Ont., is already paying it forward by sponsoring a family of eight from their homeland. 

Khaled and Aveer Sultan and their six young children arrived at the Ottawa International Airport Tuesday to cheers, tears and hugs from their sponsors, who pinned tiny maple leaves to the newcomers' lapels. 

The sponsors will act as guides, translators and an extended family to the Sultans as they adapt to their new life in Brockville.

"This family is like my brother, like my family," said sponsor Omar Alahmed.

Manar Sultan, 9, checks out the maple leaf pinned to her jacket by one of the Syrian refugees who sponsored her family to come to Canada. The family arrived in Ottawa Tuesday, and will settle in Brockville, Ont. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Relatives left behind

The five sponsor families have their own worries about relatives left behind in precarious circumstances, but say they decided to open their arms to strangers because of the way Canadians welcomed them. 

"Canadian people did not know me, but they helped me," said sponsor Ahmad Alkafrei, who arrived as a refugee in January 2017.

The sponsorship program the families are taking part in is administered by the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa and funded by two charitable groups, The Shapiro Foundation and The Giustra Foundation, as well as six other donors in Canada and the U.S.

Together, they're donating  $3.5 million dollars to 150 sponsor groups across the country to support the resettlement of 685 refugees, drawn from a list compiled by the United Nations.

Sponsor Ahmad Alkafrei holds his son as he waits to meet the refugee family at the Ottawa International Airport. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Met at recruitment drive

Kailee Brennan, an outreach officer with the Refugee Hub, first met the families in August at a recruitment event in Brockville. They came hoping to bring their own relatives to Canada, Brennan said, but soon learned that's not how the program works.

"Of course, many of them had left family behind, and it's always so difficult to explain that." Brennan said.

Sponsor Omar Alahmed holds up welcome sign at as he awaits the Sultan family at the Ottawa International Airport. (CBC)

After a prolonged discussion in Arabic, the translator, Brockville businessman Ahmad Khadra, declared the group had decided to open their arms to a family they didn't know.

"I told them, 'You are not a refugee anymore. You are now 100 per cent Canadian, and Canadians love to do something good,'" said Khadra, who came to Canada from Syria in 1995.

Khadra was also at the airport Tuesday, handing out cups of strong Syrian coffee to the new arrivals. 

The sponsors have rented a furnished apartment in Brockville for the Sultan family, and will be close by to help them access food, clothing and medical care. They'll also be able to point them to the best places for Arabic food and other small comforts that will help the family ease into their new life in Canada

Kailee Brennan of the Refugee Hub snaps a photo of Sultan family and their sponsors. ( Simon Gohier/CBC)

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story listed three foundations donating $1 million to sponsorship groups across Canada. In fact, two organizations, The Shapiro Foundation and The Giustra Foundation, along with six other donors in Canada and the U.S., are donating $3.5 million.
    Nov 21, 2018 2:26 PM ET

About the Author

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.