For Sammar Mian and Atief Sheikh and their families, waiting for more than four hours at the airport to welcome incoming Syrian refugees was worth every minute.
They are among the first private sponsors to bring Syrian refugees to their homes in Milton, Ontario. Mian and Sheikh are together hosting eleven Syrians in their homes.
“We have no idea what they’ve been through, we don’t have any idea where they are coming from and how much they’ve suffered,” Mian says. “So we should try to be as helpful as we can.”
The government has started transporting thousands of Syrian refugees in fulfilment of its campaign promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would bring in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and an additional 15,000 refugees by the end of the February, although more will likely arrive over the next year.
The long wait at the airport
When the plane bringing the families of Ziad Khabbaz, 48, and his brother Mazen, 46, finally touched down on December 10th, those waiting at the airport thought it would be only moments before they met the new arrivals.
That was not the case as they had to process their permanent residence and other paperwork before leaving the airport. Overall, it took more than four hours for them to leave Terminal 1 of the Pearson International Airport.
“They’re going to be surprised because it’s a big change for them,” Mian says.
Indeed the Khabbaz family and the other travellers seemed overwhelmed by the massive welcome they received from members of the Ahamadiyya Jama’at and Humanity First, two resettlement groups.
Arriving to cheers and shouts was not what they anticipated.
Rakhan Almasri, himself a refugee who arrived less than a week ago, translated for Khabbaz, who said in Arabic, “We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.”
Welcoming the children
Sheikh says his children are thrilled to be in Canada and can’t wait to start making new friends. “My children are really excited actually and want to know how children from other countries are and spend some time with them,” he says.
Eight-year-old Alisha Anwar, whose mother Mian is one of the hosts, says she can’t wait to meet the Syrian children. “I expect them to have fun and I hope to be friends with them and I expect them to be nice,” she says.
We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.
When the two families arrived, the Canadian children gave out gifts to their new friends. Despite the language barrier, they started playing and trying to speak to one another, hoping that the other would understand.
A new life in Canada
Ziad and Mazen Khabbaz fled their hometown of Homs three years ago when the war in Syria escalated. They stayed in Egypt for two and half years before finally coming to Canada.
“We will not only bring them here but we will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible,” says Ghlieb Baten, imam of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at at Milton.
The Milton branch of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at raised the funds for these two families to move to Canada. Baten says this is just the beginning. “God willing, this is going to be an ongoing process and we want to bring as many families as we possibly can,” he says.
“We will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible.”
Both Mian and Sheikh are members of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at in Milton, which has now has kickstarted a campaign dubbed “A Better Future” that aims to bring in more refugees from Syria. Baten says helping the refugees is a biblical obligation.
Almasri and the Khabbazs have been friends their whole lives and grew up together in Homs. However, the civil war separated them three years ago. While Almasri fled to Turkey, Ziad and Mazen went to Egypt.
The three embraced for a long time when they finally were reunited at the airport. Now, they are all going to stay together — at least temporarily — in Milton.