After a long wait and lengthy flight from Frankfurt, Germany, two families of six and a family of four finally arrived in the Canadian city of Calgary as the first Syrian refugees to enter the country.
A throng of smiling strangers and teary-eyed families brought signs, warm winter clothing, teddy bears, toys, snacks and candy to welcome the 16 arrivals at the airport on Monday.
"These are going to be our newest Canadian citizens," said Calgary resident Sarah Nassar. "So we're just here to greet them and welcome them with open arms."
About 400 families will be arriving in the city over the next few weeks, including the ones who had applied for refuge over the past years and already have families living in the country.
“I’m so proud for my daughters to be raised here in Canada, in this great country. You have democracy, freedom, friendly people, everything,” said one of the refugees, Yousef, through his cousin Esho.
Yousef who worked as a pharmacist in Syria, said his cousin came to Canada from the war-torn country three years ago and has since worked to bring his siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and parents here as refugees.
“Now I have the whole family here in Canada,” Esho told the local media. “They are safe now in a beautiful country with friendly people…My words in this situation don’t help me. I’m so happy I can’t express my feelings…It was very dangerous conditions there. Now they are here in Canada so I am so relaxed now, I’m not nervous.”
Another Calgary resident, Terez Khazaka, was also among the large Olympic-style homecoming at Calgary International Airport. As Global News reported, she had not seen her parents in five years and had applied for them to come to Canada as refugees after the war broke out.
She was finally reunited with her family on Monday, and will now act as their partial sponsor.
"It means a lot because we used to go every couple of years to see them but because of the war, we couldn’t," Khazaka said. "It was very emotional not seeing them and know that they are in danger. So, it makes it even worse for us. It’s a day I have been waiting more than a year-and-a-half to happen."
Did you know that, every year, Calgary settles 1000 refugees? We can do this. pic.twitter.com/egdLyTguz4— Daorcey Le Bray (@Daorcey) November 24, 2015
"I'm in Canada!" says this little boy. pic.twitter.com/h6BekYmdpa— Annalise Klingbeil (@AnnaliseAK) November 23, 2015
“We normally accept more than 1,000 refugees a year. So, while it’s a very big number, it’s not completely out of the scope of what is already done,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said earlier, suggesting that Calgary can welcome somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 Syrian refugees. “I am confident in saying we are ready.”
For now, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local churches will assist the new arrivals.