Canadian flags and a large welcoming poster were waving when passengers on a flight from Toronto arrived in the Charlottetown Air Port terminal early Friday morning.
A crowd of close to 20 people, most of them from a Tyne Valley and Area Sponsorship Committee, had gathered to officially welcome a Syrian refugee family to a new life in Prince Edward Island.
“I think everyone in the little terminal in Charlottetown looked totally amazed at the welcoming committee,” said Rev Ann Bush who, on behalf of the committee had taken care of the documentation with immigration officials.
It was the culmination of a process that was three years in the making for the sponsorship committee; even longer for the family of four.
Until Wednesday (Tuesday P.E.I. time), the Mom and Dad in their 20s and their children, a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, were living in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. The children were born at the camp.
The welcoming party also included two Syrian couples, one from Charlottetown and one from Summerside.
It was especially good to have the Summerside couple at the airport, as they are long-time friends of the new arrivals, explained Bush. They are part of a family of six that arrived in P.E.I. two years ago and subsequently contacted the Tyne Valley committee about sponsoring their friends.
“They hadn’t seen each other in six years; it was very emotional,” Bush described the reunion which occurred during the P.E.I. greeting.
No one in the family of four currently speaks English, Bush said, so the Summerside couple helped with the translations.
Although the committee had been working towards this moment for three years, it was only two weeks ago, Bush said, that they learned the family would be arriving soon.
The house they had rented for the family in the Tyne Valley area a year ago, when arrival was thought to be imminent, had been released, so the committee suddenly had to start fresh in search of new accommodations. They ended up finding a home in Summerside, about a 20-minute walk from the family’s friends. They had lived across the street from each other in Syria before unrest drove them from their homes.
Bush said the local committee will continue to look for a home in the Tyne Valley area, but acknowledged a decision on whether to relocate will be left up to the family.
“It would’ve been so nice to have them in this community in one sense, but in another, most of us recognize the benefits of being close to their own friends, having someone from their own culture close by.”
The committee is giving the family some time and space to rest over the weekend, but Bush anticipates the family friends will be showing them around Summerside and helping them assimilate.
Starting Monday, the committee’s volunteer support for the family ramps up, with volunteers scheduled to help them get their necessary documentation and with all the details of settling in to life on P.E.I.
Over the past two weeks committee members busily located a home and relocated furniture and linens from storage into it. A committee member and one of the family’s Syrian friends went shopping “and made sure what they bought were things those folks would recognize and probably like,” said Bush.
Bush said the committee hopes to hold welcoming receptions but will wait until the new arrivals get adjusted before presenting them that opportunity.