14 Syrian refugees arrive to applause, singing in Saskatoon

Fourteen new refugees from Syria stepped into John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon late Saturday night.

Province expects more refugees in coming days: Don Morgan

A mother and her child, refugees originally from Syria, wait inside the Saskatoon airport before stepping into the chilly weather outside. (Evan Radford/CBC)

Despite arriving fatigued and uncertain about a return home, 14 new refugees from Syria stepped into John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon late Saturday night, thankful for the support, gifts, applause and songs from the strangers awaiting their arrival.

Among the 14 were mothers, fathers, infants and young children, all of whom smiled, and hugged and kissed the waiting supporters as they met for the first time. 

Rashid Ahmed was one such supporter waiting for the newcomers to emerge. He and about 60 other people formed a dense semi-circle around the arrival doors where the exhausted travellers would emerge from.

Along with his friend and his mom, Ahmed sang an Arabic song welcoming the Syrians.

"It's actually the song when our prophet Muhammad moved to Medina [from Mecca], the people welcomed him with the same song," said Ahmed's friend, Hibatullah Hibatullah. "It's basically about welcoming people."

Fourteen refugees from Syria arrived in Saskatoon on Dec. 19. 0:29

For Ahmed, a refugee from Pakistan, it's deeply personal. He and his mother were granted refugee status in Canada after they were persecuted in Pakistan because they are Ahmadiyya Muslims.

"We know their hardship and their feeling," Ahmed said, through his tears. "I know the feeling of refugees because my family was persecuted, and they are in a dangerous situation right now too."

Ahmed's mother made a point of hugging and kissing the women in the group of newcomers. She arrived in Canada only eight months ago.

There were several politicians who awaited the refugees' arrival, including Saskatoon MLA Don Morgan. Morgan said he doesn't know the exact date, but expects more refugees to arrive within the next few days.

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      Next steps and settlement

      Workers and representatives from community agencies who will be helping the families settle in were also there to greet the newcomers at the airport.

      Zainab Al-Musawi was one of them. She's a settlement counsellor with Saskatoon Open Door Society.

      "We are a team named RAP, we work with the RAP program. Today we are very excited to have this group from Syria," she said while stepping away from prepping everyone for their first step out of the airport and into a prairie winter.

      Al-Musawi said the first task is taking all 14 newcomers to temporary residences, where there are groceries and bedding ready and waiting.

      Newly arrived refugees from Syria ready themselves to step out into Saskatoon's winter. 0:20

      Sunday promises to be a long day, Al-Musawi noted, filled with document signing, meeting officials from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and opening bank accounts.

      Longer term goals include helping newcomers find permanent residences, registering their kids in school, and registering for social insurance numbers.

      Al-Musawi said that based on her first conversations with the group, they seem very happy with the welcoming at the airport, despite their fatigue.

      "They saw the weather, it's very different here. But they said, 'With this warm welcoming, it doesn't matter. We are very happy.'"