Refugees

ISANS hosts thank you party for Syrian sponsors

ISANS is grateful for community support for Syrians

Gerry Mills, ISANS Executive Director, speaks with interpreter Nada Abdeen at the ISANS event to thank Syrian sponsors.   Caitrin Pilkington

Syrian refugees and supporters gathered on Wednesday at the Halifax Central Library to celebrate their victories thus far and to look to the future.

A number of speakers took to the stage to thank those who offered goods and services, their time and energy, and their homes to newcomers from Syria. Among them were Waye Mason, Halifax municipal councillor; Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) director Gerry Mills; and Lena Diab, Nova Scotia Minister of Immigration.

While the government agreed to sponsor 25,000 Syrian refugees, private sponsorship pushed that number closer to 39,000, according to Diab.

“This was an incredible, unprecedented local effort,” she said. “Your hard work and your time was very much appreciated.”

Behind her, a slideshow gave colour to her words: there was a succession of images of Syrian families swimming in the sea, snowshoeing, skating on the oval and enjoying Thanksgiving community dinners. At her side, a translator made her speech relevant to the Arabic speakers in the room.

“It has been a difficult week,” said ISANS director Gerry Mills in her address. “We’ve been left speechless at what is happening south of the border, and we face with broken hearts the horror of the shooting in Quebec. It is all the more important to recognize the compassion and kindness of Nova Scotia’s welcome.”

She went on to thank certain people in particular: the 98-year-old who knitted teddy bears for Syrian children. The woman on the street who asked a young man if he was Syrian, and when she heard that he was, asked if she could give him a hug. The bus drivers who said to refugees struggling to figure out Canadian money, “oh don’t worry about it, just get on.” The couple who saw a Syrian family at the grocery store and said, “we’ll pay for them.”

She also thanked corporate Nova Scotia, Mayor Mike Savage, the school board and many more organizations and people.

Waye Mason, municipal councillor for District 7, spoke directly to the events happening in the U.S. “This is all the more reason to protect what we have going here from those who want to attack those values. To be vigilant. To speak out. To stay woke. To provide an alternative to the visions of Donald Trump.”

After the speakers finished, people lingered to eat traditional Syrian dishes and talk. Hussam Jado Al Assaf, a refugee, played the guitar and sang in Arabic.

Louranes Alrifai is a 24-year-old newcomer to Nova Scotia who arrived here from Syria 7 months ago. He initially communicated with a translator, but after she left, he made the effort to say, “thanks Canada for bringing Syrian refugees. For helping them.”

Kathy Cawsey, a private sponsor, also gave a speech about her experiences.

Camsey (far right in white) speaks with her sponsored family.   Caitrin Pilkington

After the talks were over, when asked if she had anything more to say, she said: “Truly, it’s an amazing privilege to have helped this family. Their incredible hope and ability to find joy, given that they have lost everything, makes me guilty for ever feeling hopeless.”