Smithers woman Mona Awil (right)

Syrians to get warm welcome to chilly Smithers

The first family of Syrian refugees could arrive in Smithers any day.

Mona Awil is standing outside in the snow where it is at least as cold as zero degrees, but the Smithers woman says she feels “very warm.”

Her sister Dalla and nephew Sami have just undergone medical exams in Beirut after they were approved to come to Canada as Syrian refugees.

“They texted me saying ‘they are very kind, they are very nice’ and I’m like ‘yeah that’s Canadians, you are going to love them’,” said Awil.

“My nephew, he’s writing me and sending me all these smiley faces and stuff saying ‘we finally saw some Canadians, they are very, very nice’.”

Awil, her husband Akram Khalil and their two daughters have been living in Canada for 12 years since they emigrated from Syria to pursue career opportunities.

Dalla and Sami were privately sponsored by a church in Ontario, where Awil and Khalil lived when they first moved to Canada, but they will live in Smithers when they arrive. Awil’s local family has also been helping a community effort to bring more refugees from Syria to Smithers.

The Bulkley Valley Refugee Sponsorship Group (BVRSG) originally set out to sponsor one family but the community response was so strong they raised $81,000 — enough to apply to bring two families to the valley.

Awil’s cousin, his wife and three children make up one of the two families the group applied to sponsor.

The second application was to bring a family of five, who would be nominated by Canada’s immigration services.

Earlier this month, after months of fundraising and negotiating the application process, the group got the emails they had been waiting for. Both applications had been approved.

BVRSG spokesperson Pauline Mahoney said she was both excited and overwhelmed by the good news.

The group’s priority now is to prepare for when the refugees arrive, which could be any day, although immigration services had not provided a date at the time of print.

Although they have enough funds to sponsor the families for their first year in Canada, much of that money will go towards paying rent and covering settlement costs.

To reduce the refugees’ overall expenses, the group is looking for donations of children’s clothing, furniture and household items.

Mahoney said the group was also taking measures to address any community concerns by educating people about the Syrian refugee crisis.

Awil said it was possible some of the refugees coming to Canada had experienced trauma and it was important they were well-received by the community.

“To feel warm and safe, I think that’s the most important part for them, to feel like nobody will judge them or hurt them,” she said.

Mahoney agreed the first priority when the families arrived would be to give them a warm welcome, both physically and emotionally.

“[Moving to Canada] must come with excitement but anxiety and fear so it’s up to us to help make them feel really safe and welcome,” she said.

“I think we can do that really well in our town.”


Read the full story in the Jan. 20 edition of The Interior News.