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Syrian family: 'Thank you Canada'

"God bless you all. Thank you Canada." Those were the first words of the father of a family of five, the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Sudbury, landing Thursday afternoon at the Sudbury Airport.
"God bless you all. Thank you Canada."

Those were the first words of the father of a family of five, the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Sudbury, landing Thursday afternoon at the Sudbury Airport.

The family was greeted by dozens of volunteers, well-wishers and politicians, who joined a throng of media to await their arrival. The mom, dad and three sons were excited to be here, but were sad because a passport problem kept their grandfather in Lebanon, at least for now.

"The first thing he wants is his dad to come here," said Abdul Hak Dabliz, Imam of the Sudbury Mosque, who acted as the translator for the family first's media interview.

"They want to forget all the bad days and the hardship they experienced four years ago when they were in Syria. It was very, very hard."

They spent three years in Lebanon after managing to flee the horrific civil war in their native land, and have been waiting to come to Canada for the last 12 months.

"The year and a half they were in Syria, they will never forget that in their entire life," Dabliz said, translating. "He is very happy to be here. He is only looking for safety and security."

They were told at the start of 2015 they would be getting out of Lebanon and coming here, but they were having trouble getting straight answers about when that would happen. But that changed when Justin Trudeau became prime minister in October. Officials in Lebanon told them things had changed in Canada and that he would be coming for sure.

The mother of the family seemed a little overwhelmed by the reception at the airport, and admitted she was nervous about starting a new life here.

"She is very grateful, but she feels a little bit awkward, because she doesn't know what to expect."

Joanne Ross, who led the effort to bring the family here through St. Andrew's United Church and Lifeline Sudbury, said they received just 12 hours notice that their arrival was imminent.

"We received an email yesterday morning that they had left Beirut and they would be arriving at Pearson last night," Ross said. "You can imagine yesterday we spent it scrambling on the phone to try and find out exactly what the arrangements are going to be."

There was also a last-minute electrical problem at the house they have rented for the family, but a member of St. Andrew's who's an engineer was busy working on fixing it even as the family touched down in Sudbury.

But they had chicken and sweets ready for them, and the teapot was in place so they could have tea in their new home.

"We're very grateful for the support of the federal government and we're very excited to be welcoming them to our community," Ross said.

Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre was out of town, but Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré was on hand for the family's arrival. Serré said preparing for the tens of thousands of refugees who will be coming here is a huge task and the government has experienced some delays.

"We have to build the infrastructure, we gotta build the momentum and in the next few months you'll see a lot more families coming in," he said.

"It's pretty exciting to be part of this. And there's more to come. It's going to be a big transition for the family, obviously, but the community will pull together and welcome the family here in Sudbury."

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger also greeted the family at the airport. He joked he was subbing for Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who's a member of St. Andrews.

"I'm just very pleased to be able to share the experience of all of the efforts that has been put in by these community groups," Bigger said. "It's a really good reflection on Sudburians. My parents came to Sudbury, they emigrated from Europe 60 years ago. And a lot of Sudburians came from other places and learned to love our city.

"We seem to be a city that's very aware of our global presence -- maybe being the nickel capital of the world. People have come from all across the world to build our city and our economy. So it's a very proud day today."

Speaking through the translator Dabliz, the father said he has been a baker for the last 14 years, and allowed that he's a very good one. It's a talent he hopes to share with people in his new home.

"He hopes he will be able to repay what Canada has done for them," he said. "He has heard all positive, good things, because Canada has a reputation all over the world has been good for centuries, not only years. Canada is well known -- a very peaceful country, a peacekeeping country, and he is very happy to be here.

“Hopefully, one of these days, all of you will taste what a good baker he is."

For his part, Dabliz said he expects the welcome the new family receives will be as warm as the one he received when he came to Canada 45 years ago.

"All I see from the people here has been total respect and sharing and caring,” he said. “People here are good."

Sudbury's Muslims will take particular care of the new family in the coming months, helping them adjust to a new culture and language.

"We will help them until they can help themselves,” he said. “It will not take a day or two, it is a long-term care. When you do something, you don't expect anything in return, and you don't aim for fame or to have your name in the paper. If you can help some people, you should."


Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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