While tens-of- thousands of Syrian refugees continue to struggle in makeshifts camps across Europe, newly arrived Syrians in B.C. are getting the ultimate Canadian experience.
Hundreds of them took part in winter activities on Mt. Seymour in North Vancouver in a welcoming event called ‘First Snow’ put together by Mt. Seymour ski resort, Immigrant Services Society (ISS) and Lynch bus lines.
“My hope is they will feel welcome,” says Eddie Wood, the head of Mt. Seymour ski resort as he smiles at a group of children trying out tobogganing. “That they are becoming part of the community and they will become part of the community. This is an opportunity for us to take a step and welcome them.”
Children put on their first pair of skis, tried s’mores for the very first time, and played in the snow this Sunday.
For the kids, it’s an opportunity to have fun after escaping Syria’s devastating civil war, described by the United Nations as one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern history.
WATCH: Syrian refugees play in the snow for the first time.
Response from Refugees
Honada Al Kerdi Al Barawi, a refugee, says her children have special needs and were not allowed to attend school in refugee camps. She says today, for the first time in 5 years, her children could act their age and have fun. Her family arrived to Canada via private sponsorship.
Al Barawi embraced her sponsor, North Shore resident Shannon Muir in a hug, holding back tears as she thanked her, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada.
Muir says the experience has also been enriching.
“Honada often tells us that she feels like a burden and she doesn’t want to be a burden on people. And we tell her that it’s such a pleasure to have them here…And we all love each other.”
Volunteers on Mt. Seymour like Jenn Wesanko share the same sentiment.
“It’s been a day of goose bumps and tears. Everyone feels like they’re already close friends”
For the organizers and volunteers, ‘First Snow’ was not only a way to welcome these refugees, but a chance to show them how Canadians enjoy the winter wonderland.
Challenges faced by Syrian refugees in Canada
There are of course challenges Syrian refugees like many other refugees must face. Learning English, finding a job, settling in permanent housing, and dealing with the emotional scars they continue to bear, just to name a few.
There are still dozens of Syrian refugees residing in hotels across Metro Vancouver. There are about 20 of them, for example, living in a hotel in Abbotsford currently. But the Federal government is making headway in finding permanent housing and locals are opening their homes to help out.
“Most of the refugees we have taken in at ISS BC have settled in Surrey for the most part,” says Anna Marie Panczel of the ISS of B.C.
Refugee advocate and Arabic translator Deyab Gamal-El-Dean says housing is one of the biggest obstacles.
“Some of them have been in hotels for two months. But everything other than that is going well,” says Gamal-El-Dean.
Meanwhile, a plan to send back refugees and migrants from Greece to Turkey has sparked demonstrations just a couple of days after the deal brokered by the European Union is set to be implemented.
For refugees in Canada like Mohammad Ali, watching his kids experience snow for the first time is “awesome” and becoming Canadian has simply brought him happiness.