The first family of Syrian refugees to arrive in the Bulkley Valley were greeted with tears and hugs when they stepped off the plane at the Smithers Regional Airport this morning.
Saied Assaf, his wife Eviet Danbar and their children Gessika, 15, Jolie, 12, and Yousef, 5, finally arrived in Smithers on Family Day after several days in transit.
When they reached the arrival gate, the family were reunited with their Smithers-based cousin Mona Awil, who had not seen them for 12 years since she emigrated from Syria to Canada.
Yousef was the first to reach the gate, where Awil picked him up and hugged him tightly.
The Smithers woman said she was overwhelmed and relieved after months of planning and uncertainty.
“What’s better than this to celebrate Family Day?” she said.
“My heart is going to stop.”
Assaf, who speaks limited English, also expressed his joy at starting his new life in Canada on Family Day.
“My friend told me this is Family Day … so we arrive on Family Day and [we have] new family,” he said.
“I’m very happy.”
The Assaf family and another family arriving on Tuesday were sponsored to move to Smithers by the Bulkley Valley Refugee Sponsorship Group (BVRSG).
Members of the group gathered at the airport with flowers, gifts and signs with the slogan “Smithers welcomes you” written in Arabic.
BVRSG spokesperson Pauline Mahoney said many people had wanted to greet the family at the airport but the group had to ask them not to.
“It was really hard for us to ask people to stay away from the airport but we just wanted to keep the needs of the family foremost and realize that they are probably in shock, really, and we wanted to give them that time and space,” she said.
She thanked the community for their part in raising more than $80,000 to sponsor the two families.
Mahoney said the group hoped to host a community potluck with the two families after they had settled in.
Four families of Syrian refugees are scheduled to arrive in Smithers by the end of the week. Two are sponsored by the BVRSG, and the other two have been privately funded by Mona Awil and her husband Akram Kalil.
More to come in the Feb. 10 edition of The Interior News.