For 18 Syrian refugee families who landed at Regina International Airport on Friday, the first greeting they heard was ‘welcome’, and the first English words several of them spoke were thank you.
The group of 35 government-sponsored refugees arrived on an evening flight from Toronto. On a cold night with wind chills up to – 27 C, the refugees were welcomed with gifts of blankets and mittens.
Speaking to reporters with the help of a translator, Majida Al-Jahmani described how she felt warmed by the love and acceptance Canadians have shown to refugees.
“Even though it’s cold, there is a lot of love over here,” she said.
She says her family left Syria three years ago and they have been living in Jordan ever since.
“It’s a war, people they’re hungry, no food, no water, no electricity, no home,” she described life in her war-torn country. “The kids they don’t have any milk, no formula, no medication, no medical assistance at all.”
She came to Canada with her two daughters in their 20s and a 16-year-old son, but she has tears in her eyes when she explains that they had to leave her 20-year-old son behind.
All she hopes for is peace and a future for her children.
Another woman sat on a bench surrounded by her six children who are all under the age of seven. She told the translator in Syria they were always scared and worried about their kids. Tired out by the journey, she’s not sure what to say about Regina, but says she’s happy for the chance to finally live in peace where she can raise her children.
Unfazed by the crowd, and still full of energy after a long journey, 16-year-old Abrahim was so eager to speak to reporters he could hardly wait for a translator.
“He just wants to thank Canada for being approved, their cases to come over here and they’re so happy to come for a new home,” the translator said. “Thank you so much.”
Unlike the youngest refugee children who are only toddlers, the teenager knows why his family has travelled so far to get away from the war. After just a few minutes in Regina, he is absolutely confident in the future.
“He thought about it as it is right now and it is way, much better,” he said.
Abrahim also has big plans for the future, dreaming of studying to become an engineer or a doctor.
The Regina Open Door Society (RODS) is expecting a total of 348 Syrian refugees to arrive in Regina by the end of February. The organization says 11 out of the 12 families who arrived in December have already moved into permanent housing and there are plenty of other units available.
The non-profit organization is still accepting cash donations and welcoming new volunteers to help with the resettlement process. People in Regina already donated 31,000 lbs of clothing, home furniture and appliances to help refugees. Those donated items are available at the Salvation Army where refugees will get vouchers to pick out anything they need for free.