Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the hundreds of people who gathered in Halifax’s main square Wednesday night in support of a Syrian refugee family that lost seven children in a house fire, as pressure mounted to bring other members of the grieving family to Nova Scotia.
The mourners gathered at Grand Parade in front of city hall and listened solemnly as the Barho children’s names and ages were read out followed by a moment of silence.
They were: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada in November.
Natalie Horne, of the organization that sponsored the Barho family, spoke through tears as she described personalities traits of the children.
“While the seven children will always be lumped together in this tragedy, they were also all so unique and individual,” said Horne, of the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society.
“Ahmad, the oldest, was a jokester who had the best sense of humour, and like many 14-year-old boys, he loved girls. Rola, who was 12, was a little mother to all of the children and she excelled academically and wanted so much to do well in school.”
Horne said Mohamad was an excellent athlete, Ola loved to dance, Hala had a big personality, Rana was sweet and Abdullah was adored by his mother.
Ali Duane, a member of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, urged all Canadians to pressure the federal government to bring grieving mother Kawthar Barho’s family members to Nova Scotia.
“Speaking face-to-face with the mother, who is in a desperate situation, one of the things she has asked … is that her family be here as soon as possible. We’re asking that her family be here as soon as possible,” said Duane, prompting spirited claps and cheers from the crowd.
WATCH: Halifax MP says he’s doing everything he can to bring Barho family’s relatives to Canada
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said he was working with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to bring Barho’s family to the province.
“The Barho family arrived in Halifax as refugees but they became our neighbours. They became our friends,” Fillmore said in prepared remarks.
“Yet, the loss we feel tonight is so heavy because they were our neighbours. Syrian refugees, yes. But Nova Scotians, too.”
Trudeau didn’t speak at the vigil, but stood among the crowd with his hands cupped together, sometimes with his head down, before heading to a previously planned party event.
Trudeau told supporters at that event that he came straight in from the airport to attend the vigil for the family.
“It’s unimaginable to think what the family is going through, and the loss that is facing the community,” he said.
The prime minister said he was inspired, “to see so many people come out to share their love, to share their support for this family that most of them didn’t know and to say, ‘We’re there for you.”‘
“We’re there for you to lean on us. We’re there because you are a family of Syrian refugees, but you are also a family of Nova Scotians and Canadians.”
WATCH: Trudeau says the Barho family’s loss following a deadly Halifax house fire is ‘unimaginable’
The Barho family came to Nova Scotia in 2017 as sponsored refugees; the seven children died early Tuesday in a fire that swept through their suburban home.
Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre in Halifax said Wednesday that the father, Ebraheim Barho, remains in critical condition in hospital.
As for his wife Kawthar Barho, Yousri said she remains so distraught that she says little, aside from repeating the name of her youngest child, four-month-old Abdullah.
Yousri said plans for a burial service remain on hold because the children’s bodies have yet to be released by the medical examiner.
A fundraising campaign launched to help the parents quickly surpassed its initial $300,000 goal.
A GoFundMe page had collected more than $352,000 as of Wednesday evening, with its stated goal raised to $1 million. The effort is organized by family friends and the Imam Council of Halifax.
The city’s official “community gathering” came 24 hours after a more spontaneous gathering Tuesday outside the charred remnants of the family’s Quartz Drive house.
Neighbours and others carried flowers and wept openly in the frigid darkness, looking for solace in the company of neighbours and listening to a Christian pastor attempt to gather community strength for the Muslim refugees from Syria beginning to make a new life in Canada.
Josh Crawford sang “Amazing Grace” and said they all needed to draw upon their faith to recover from the tragedy.
“The next couple of days are going to be hard, but it’s going to be the weeks and the months to come that this family is going to need you the most,” said Crawford, whose mother works at the school attended by the two oldest children.
They added more flowers, candles and teddy bears to a memorial propped up against a light standard in front of the family’s house.
The fire struck not long after midnight on Tuesday morning. Neighbours said they were awoken by a woman’s screams and looked out to see flames that quickly engulfed the entire upper floor.
WATCH: Syrian community rally to support family killed in Halifax fire
The family had only lived in the Spryfield for a few months, having moved into Halifax from Elmsdale, N.S., to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services.
They had fled war-torn Syria and, with the help of a private sponsorship group, came to Canada in September 2017. A spokesperson for the group said the family had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.
– With files from Michael Tutton