Edmonton man who lived in Syria prepares to welcome refugees

EDMONTON — An Edmonton man who spent time in Syria is speaking out in hopes of changing some of the negative opinions being cast upon refugees.

Joachim Hengge worked in Syria as an engineer from 2008 to 2010. He remembers it as a place with beautiful architecture and landscapes, and a friendly culture.

“At the beginning I was quite anxious and scared actually, but we went anyways and it was just amazing. The people are extremely welcoming. I think we often don’t separate the regime or government from the actual people who are living there,” Hengge said. “We were welcomed there. Everywhere.”

Now a war-torn country, refugees are fleeing violence and destruction. Hengge and his colleague Virendra Gupta are both members of the Inshallah Edmonton Refugee Sponsors group, one of many responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

“These refugees, they are fleeing the same thing that the people in Paris were fleeing from. So we need to show them our common humanity, that we’re not going to run away, we are not afraid. We must stick by our principles and welcome people who are seeking shelter,” said Gupta.

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“It’s not easy for anybody to leave their home and their family and their neighbours, their friends, what they know and go into a strange land. So we ought to welcome them.”

READ MORE: Edmonton schools gearing up for wave of Syrian students

Inshallah Edmonton Refugee Sponsors is holding an event on Sunday called Reflections of Syria. Hosts of the event will talk about their time in Syria, answer questions and explain how people can help refugees coming to Canada.

“It’s critical that if we can help, that we help. I mean, Canada is a country made up of people welcoming people,” said Gupta. “It’s a very Canadian thing to do.”

Hengge hopes sharing his experiences will help others see a different side of the people of Syria.

“I would really miss something in my life if I wouldn’t have gone there. And I think it was quite important to have been there now, to have the stories and to remember what it used to be,” said Hengge.

The Reflections of Syria event will take place at Trinity Lutheran Church Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

With files from Lisa Wolansky, Global News.

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