Emotional welcome at Charlottetown Airport as refugee family arrives

A church sponsorship group is happy to welcome a refugee family from Iraq. They are frustrated, however with the delays and roadblocks they still face with sponsoring other families.

'It's just overwhelming — I can't stop crying'

The Toma family was sponsored to come to Canada by a group of churches on P.E.I. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Volunteers from a group of P.E.I churches are happy to be welcoming an Iraqi refugee family after a number of delays with the sponsorship process. The Toma family arrived at the Charlottetown Airport Wednesday morning — greeted by a large welcoming committee. 

The family was sobbing as were those waiting for them. 

"It's just overwhelming, it's been three years, and kind of all the emotions just came out now," said Central Christian Church pastor, Callum Beck. 

"I can't stop crying," he said. 

Joseph Toma (right) is overcome by emotion as he is welcomed by church committee volunteer Michael Ghiz. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"I can't believe I'm in a country that is safe and secure," said Joseph Toma through a translator. 

Toma and his wife Basma have four boys aged six to 18. They fled Iraq and had been living in Lebanon where they describe living conditions as very difficult. 

Frustrating delays

The church committee, made up of about half a dozen different P.E.I. churches, is frustrated with how long it takes for private organizations to bring refugee families to Canada.

"If you have private organizations who are willing to put so much time and money into this … we just want the government's support in that," said Beck, adding the committee would like to see those road blocks eliminated. 

"This family should have been here a year ago." 

Even as they were at the airport, some volunteers found it hard to believe the family was actually coming. 

Church volunteer members with the Toma family. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The group raised about $80,000 in hopes of sponsoring a few families if possible, but it recently found out a Syrian family it was hoping to help had been rejected. 

"It's very sad," Beck said. 

Beck said they are hoping to find a way to overturn that immigration decision. Several churches have been having on-going meetings trying to figure out ways to pressure the Canadian government to speed up the refugee sponsorship process. 

P.E.I. connection

And while the family arrived in P.E.I. for the first time on Wednesday, they already had an Island connection. Michael Ghiz knew the family from when he lived in Lebanon. Ghiz got involved with the church group, and suggested the Tomas as a family to sponsor. 

"Obviously they're very excited after waiting so long," Ghiz said. 

The Toma family at the airport shortly after arriving. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Through a translator, the children discussed their hopes for the future. Sixteen-year-old Andrew Toma talked about wanting to go to school and play soccer. Eleven-year-old Thomas Toma said Canadians are beautiful people.

"No people are hitting, and killing one another," he said. 

The focus will now be on getting the family into English classes and integrating them into their new community. 

More P.E.I. News


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.