SASKATOON – Fourteen Syrian refugees arrived in Saskatoon Saturday evening. A crowd welcomed them at the arrival gate with cheering, clapping, and singing.
They were overwhelmed and exhausted. A few are sick and will need medical attention.
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The refugees were quickly taken to a room in the airport where government officials and members of the Open Door Society welcomed them.
“You had to be upstairs to see the families with little kids. They’re just like all of us. There were babies crying, one got sick, the other was all excited about what they received. You know we all belong to one race and that’s the human race,” said Mayor Don Atchison.
Rashid Ahmed was at the arrival gate with friends and members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Saskatoon to welcome the newcomers. He came to Canada as a refugee three years ago and is no stranger to hardship.
“I know the feeling of refugees because my family was persecuted and they are in that situation right now too. So we are here to support refugees because we know their hardship and we want to welcome them in Canada,” said Ahmed.
Those who arrived Saturday were given Roughrider gear to keep them warm. It came in handy when they walked outside and saw huge snowflakes, some for the first time.
“They saw the weather, it is very different here. But they said with the warm welcome it doesn’t matter, we are very happy,” said Open Door Society settlement counselor Zainab Al-Musawi.
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The Open Door Society along with partnering organizations have organized meals and temporary apartments until permanent arrangement are made.
“We’ll get them prepared to set their bank accounts and the basic services that they need. Also give them orientation and life skills support,” said Open Door Society executive director Ali Abukar.
Out of the 14 refugees who arrived, half are government sponsored and the other half are on blended visas, which is a combination of private and government sponsorship.
This group may be the first, but they certainly aren’t the last. Eight-hundred to 850 refugees are expected to land in Saskatchewan by the end of February 2016.