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Syrian family welcomed to Edmonton as massive wave of refugees expected to follow

EDMONTON – With the Liberal government’s plan to bring in Syrian refugees poised to bring in a wave of migrants to Canada, Edmonton welcomed a Syrian family to Alberta’s capital.

The family arrived at the Edmonton International Airport Tuesday after escaping their war-torn country.

The Mennonite Central Committee, who is sponsoring the family, then brought them to the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers where they will begin the long process of resettling.

Maher Istanbouly, his wife Amal and their three children have had a long and difficult journey but are finally in Canada and reunited with family already living here.

“My brother was a humanitarian guy,” said Istanbouly’s brother Taher Istanbouli, who already lives in Canada. “He was helping people when the revolution started so the regime arrested him.”

Istanbouly was later released and fled to Turkey with his family before applying to come to Canada with help from the centre.

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Donna Entz, who works with the Mennonite Church, was also there for the emotional reunion. She said this isn’t the first Syrian family she’s helped welcome to Edmonton but that each reunion still moves her to tears.

“I still cry every time they come through the door,” said Entz. “They (refugees) didn’t deserve this, they need something better.”

“I’m just so excited,” said Istanbouli. “I feel that they are safe here, they will be safe here.”

Taher Istanbouli and his wife Boushra Korknawi have already lived in Canada for nine years and said they are excited their four children will now have family in the same country.

Before becoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau had campaigned on a promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before Jan. 1, 2016.

READ MORE: Montreal’s Trudeau airport chosen as gateway for Syrian refugees

The Liberal government has since extended its deadline for meeting the goal to the end of February. The federal government has said the original deadline was not logistically feasible while critics have alleged the Trudeau government is backtracking on its promise in the wake of recent terrorist attacks across the globe.

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READ MORE: Canadian military preparing to help Syrian refugees coming to Canada

On Tuesday, the head of the International Organization for Migration applauded the Liberals’ change of plans.

“As we worked through this, talking to our Canadian counterparts both in Beirut, Amman and Ankara and here in Ottawa, we realized that it’s just physically not possible to bring 25,000 in by the end of this year,” director general William Swing said. “So we’ve come up with, I think, a good compromise.”

According to the United Nations, at least 4.28 million Syrian refugees have been registered since civil war broke out in that country in 2011. That does not include the millions who’ve left camps or travelled by land or sea to European countries to seek asylum on their own.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict in Syria has left at least 250,000 people dead and over one million more injured.

The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) is currently working to develop a comprehensive list of community members willing to support the settlement efforts in any way they can.

Right now, the centre is answering questions and pointing out what people can do if they want to volunteer, help sponsor refugees, provide clothing or furniture donations, and give money to its Syrian Emergency Relief Fund, which helps pay for refugees to be resettled in Edmonton.

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If you want to help, you can contact the EMCN’s Community Liaison for Syrian Support by email at refugeesupport@emcn.ab.ca or by phone at 780-423-9677.

-with files from Quinn Ohler and the Canadian Press