Syrian refugees pay it forward by sponsoring a Syrian family in Canada

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They’ve only been in Canada a short while, but a group of Syrian refugees living in Brockville, Ont., is already paying it forward by sponsoring a family of eight from their homeland.

Khaled and Aveer Sultan and their six young children arrived at the Ottawa International Airport Tuesday to cheers, tears and hugs from their sponsors, who pinned tiny maple leaves to the newcomers’ lapels.

The sponsors will act as guides, translators and an extended family to the Sultans as they adapt to their new life in Brockville.

“This family is like my brother, like my family,” said sponsor Omar Alahmed.

Manar Sultan, 9, checks out the maple leaf pinned to her jacket by one of the Syrian refugees who sponsored her family to come to Canada. The family arrived in Ottawa Tuesday, and will settle in Brockville, Ont. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Relatives left behind

The five sponsor families have their own worries about relatives left behind in precarious circumstances, but say they decided to open their arms to strangers because of the way Canadians welcomed them.

“Canadian people did not know me, but they helped me,” said sponsor Ahmad Alkafrei, who arrived as a refugee in January 2017.

The sponsorship program the families are taking part in is administered by the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa and funded by charitable groups including The Shapiro Foundation, the Giustra Foundation and Jewish Family Services of Ottawa.

Together, they’re donating $1 million to 150 community sponsor groups across the country to support the resettlement of 680 Syrian refugees, who are drawn from a list compiled by the United Nations.

Sponsor Ahmad Alkafrei holds his son as he waits to meet the refugee family at the Ottawa International Airport. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Met at recruitment drive

Kailee Brennan, an outreach officer with the Refugee Hub, first met the families in August at a recruitment event in Brockville. They came hoping to bring their own relatives to Canada, Brennan said, but soon learned that’s not how the programs works.

“Of course, many of them had left family behind, and it’s always so difficult to explain that.” Brennan said.

Sponsor Omar Alahmed holds up welcome sign at as he awaits the Sultan family at the Ottawa International Airport. (CBC)

After a prolonged discussion in Arabic, the translator, Brockville businessman Ahmad Khadra, declared the group had decided to open their arms to a family they didn’t know.

“I told them, ‘You are not a refugee anymore. You are now 100 per cent Canadian, and Canadians love to do something good,” said Khadra, who came to Canada from Syria in 1995.

Khadra was also at the airport Tuesday, handing out cups of strong Syrian coffee to the new arrivals.

The sponsors have rented a furnished apartment in Brockville for the Sultan family, and will be close by to help them access food, clothing and medical care. They’ll also be able to point them to the best places for Arabic food and other small comforts that will help the family ease into their new life in Canada

Kailee Brennan of the Refugee Hub snaps a photo of Sultan family and their sponsors. ( Simon Gohier/CBC)

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