Syrian refugees: Leamington to welcome 125 newcomers over next year

More than one hundred government-assisted Syrian refugees are heading to the Town of Leamington, Ont. by March 2017. Twenty-five are expected by the end of this month.

'We feel like we have a brand new family in Leamington now'

Sobhi Hamra gets English lesson at South Essex Community Council (Aadel Haleem/CBC)

Leamington, Ont. will welcome 125 Syrian refugees over the next year, after being selected as one of three Canadian municipalities to receive and resettle government-assisted refugees.

Peterborough, Ont. and Brooks, Alta. are the other two communities.

The New Canadians' Centre of Excellence responded to the federal government's call to identify temporary centres for its Resettlement Assistance Program.

"They are going to notice the warm welcome," said Rima Nohra, the head of the centre's refugee assistance program.  "Everybody is excited to welcome them." 

"From the community leaders to community partners, everybody is excited," she said. "Everybody is rallying behind this initiative to help the newcomers and help them settle into their new community."

In January, the first Syrian refugee family arrived in Leamington. The Hamras were privately-sponsored by the Faith Mennonite Church.

Sobhi Hamra was a shoemaker in Syria and an assistant chef in Lebanon. He hopes to one day open a pizzeria in Leamington.

He's looking forward to the arrival of dozens of his countrymen and women.

"We encourage [other Syrians] to come to Leamington and we are very sure that they will be happy here because we have had a great experience so far," he said. 

"The welcoming we received was beyond our expectations," his wife, Hanaa Mansour, said through an Arabic translator. "We wish that we knew more English so that we could communicate a lot more with [our sponsors]. We feel that we have a brand new family in Leamington now." 

The Hamra family with their sponsors from the Faith Mennonite Church. (Aadel Haleem/CBC)

The couple receives English language training from the South Essex Community Council.

Exceeding expectations 

"When we got our approval to come to Canada we were very nervous about leaving our family and leaving our country," Mansour said. "But right now, since we came to Canada, we are very grateful. We feel like we are at home."

Housing has been a challenge for many of the 27 communities across Canada offering expanded services to refugees. The NCCE says it already has an inventory of 10 units, with anywhere from two to five bedrooms each.

"In Leamington, I don't see any problem with that because we have landlords that already confirmed the availability of big and large houses that could accommodate large families," Nohra said.

In a region with high unemployment, Nohra said job considerations have already been made.

"We are in connection with the major warehouses and greenhouses and other employment prospects in the community. The doors are open for the Syrian refugees to start working as soon as they arrive," she said.

Still, there are some unknowns, such as exactly who is coming — and when.

"We don't know who we are getting so we don't know exactly what their background is, but all the barriers will be addressed," Nohra said.

The first government-assisted arrivals are expected in the coming days with NCCE staff set to greet them at the Windsor International Airport.

"We bring them to their temporary accommodation and then we start the orientation process," Nohra said. "Three days of orientation to help them understand the whole concept of their new home and followed by adjusting to a new house, which they are going to be moving into and settlement services, orientation services to help them through the process."

The Town of Leamington will soon have a bus service linking it with Kingsville, Essex and St. Clair College in Windsor. (Aadel Haleem/CBC)