The mass Syrian refugee migration has been called the biggest humanitarian crisis of this generation. It’s estimated the ongoing crisis in Syria has claimed over 250,000 lives and displaced over 12 million people.
Over the past several months, the plethora of news reports and videos of over-crowded dinghies battling ocean waves and currents has only been compounded by the pictures of small children’s bodies washing up on European shores. These disturbing images has compelled the world to take action, with nations half a world away vowing to bring thousands of displaced Syrians to their nations. Canada has been among those countries.
In mid-November 2015, the Canadian government made an official declaration to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the years end, and 25,000 in total by the end of February 2016. While the first goal seemed ambitious at best, by the end of January, 10,000 refugees had made their way through Canadian airports, many of them landing in Alberta’s two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton.
As 2015 drew to a close, 1,500 Syrian refugees were welcomed in the Edmonton area, a number that has grown slightly as we move into the second month of the New Year. While many in the capital prairie city rushed to welcome the new arrivals, the transition has not come without bumps in the road.
The first major hurdle was ensuring the refugees were prepared for the rough winters that are a natural part of Alberta life. Donations of winter clothing came pouring in. However, sorting them and getting them into the hands of the refugees proved to be a logistical feat.
“Nobody was expecting the tremendous amount of work that was waiting when these people arrived,” said Hussein Jomaa, Chairman of the Edmonton-based Islamic centre.
The city has felt an increasing strain due to the current state of oil prices, in addition to the influx of Syrians looking for a new life.
“It’s a tough market right now in Alberta with the crash of the price of oil, so I think those challenges are going to be even more acute,” said Lori Thorlakson, Director of the university’s European Union Centre of Excellence.
Once the settlement process began, the refugees were hit with another hurdle as many fell ill with influenza. “This is an extraordinarily vulnerable group being new to Canada and coming from an environment that’s not very good. And I think, as Canadians, we’ve committed to caring for and providing them excellent service,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, Medical Officer of Health for the Edmonton zone of Alberta Health Services.
Despite the bleak economic circumstances in the province, Albertans, and Edmontonians in general, have answered the call and welcomed their new neighbours with the graciousness the prairie residents are known for.
President of Symmetry Asset Management and Edmontonian Dan White is one of the many business executives in the Edmonton area who have supported the resettlement efforts. White mentions how Canadians are taught to care about each other no matter the circumstance and believes Canadians have done that in Edmonton.
Edmonton’s Dan White is right — Edmontonians have risen to the occasion. Dan White adds that from free hair salon appointments to complimentary hockey tickets, Edmontonians have really tried to make the transition as easy as possible.
Even the youngest residents are doing their part. Students at Edmonton Christian Northeast School have raised thousands of dollars to support the refugees who have yet to find a permanent home.
“The students felt compelled to do something,” Brady Vanry, a teacher at the school, said. “And so over the span of about three, or four weeks, they tried to motivate their entire school to donate money to an organization that was working to feed refugees in refugee camps in neighbouring countries around Syria.”