As It Happens

Toronto family to welcome 43 Syrian refugees into home

Christine Youssef's bungalow in Toronto is getting quite packed. Five of her cousins arrived in Toronto last week on the first government-sponsored flight from Lebanon. Another nine family members are expected to arrive on Tuesday.
Five of Christine Youssef's cousins arrived at the Toronto airport on Dec. 10, 2015. (Twitter/Christine Youssef)

A Toronto mother and daughter are bringing 43 Syrian refugee family members to Canada in the coming months.

Five of Christine Youssef's cousins arrived in Toronto last week on the first government-sponsored flight. Another nine family members are expected to arrive on Tuesday.

All of the new arrivals will initially be staying at Youssef's bungalow in the east end of Toronto.

"It's crazy. It's a zoo," Youssef tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "It was my mom and myself before … Now, it's seven of us. We're rearranging the house."

Youssef says the arrival of her first five cousins has been a big shock for her.

"I've never seen my cousins on an airplane travelling anywhere. Usually, it's the other way around where I have to travel to Syria to see them."

The last time Youssef saw her cousins was when she travelled to Damascus in October of 2010. Approximately six months later, the war in Syria began.

Before the war, Youssef says her cousins' lives were "amazing" with "no complaints."

But, as the war progressed, "They went from being middle-class ... to poor almost," says Youssef.

"There were bombings. They couldn't leave the house. They were living day by day."

For Youssef, one incident from September of 2014 sticks out in her mind. She says her cousin was walking his son home from school in Damascus when there was a bombing.

"Once this happened, [my cousin] realized, 'I can lose my son at any moment,'" says Youssef.

"My cousin went home. He called my mom in Canada. He said, 'Auntie, This is it. We have to go to Lebanon as soon as possible … I can't lose my son to the war.'"

After this, Youssef and her mother, Sarah, started looking into how they could bring their relatives to safety in Canada.

I realize that I'm helping save lives and that means more to me than anything else.- Christine Youssef

"When someone's asking you please save my son or save my life … you can't say no," says Youssef. "We knew that there was a way to help." 

Youssef and her mother have raised $250,000 to bring their 43 family members to Canada. The family has had to take out a loan out from the bank and put a second mortgage on their home.

But, Youssef says the financial strain is worth it. 

"Growing up, I thought I had no hobbies … and I thought what am I doing with my life. Now, I realize that I'm helping save lives and that means more to me than anything else."

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