OTTAWA, Canada, March 19 (UNHCR) – Just hours after landing in Ottawa, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met a group of Syrian refugees who recently arrived to Ottawa. The families came to Canada as part of Canada’s humanitarian program to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.
“I want to personally greet all of you who have come from the Middle East. I have traveled to that part of the world and I know what beautiful countries you are coming from,” said High Commissioner Grandi.
“I know how hard it was your decision to leave, especially for those of you who had to leave some family members behind. Your choice to leave is courageous and I hope you have inside you the energy and courage to restart.”
Grandi, who is in Canada on his first official visit since he took office on 1 January 2016 was particularly interested in hearing about how Syrian refugees were adjusting to life in Canada. The High Commissioner was accompanied by Anita Biguzs, Deputy Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Carl Nicholson, Executive Director for the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, the agency responsible for the welcome of most resettled refugees in Ottawa.
33-year old Malva Hasan Halo had arrived in Ottawa from Turkey just twelve days earlier with her husband Ferhan Halo and their four young children including two-month-old baby boy Sehmus. She told the High Commissioner through an interpreter that they were very grateful to Canada for the opportunity to start over and were happy that they made it all together.
“Right now, language is our main challenge. We can’t understand everything what people say,” said Malva holding her baby. “But we are safe here and the kids are safe.” The Halos have a 7-year old son Ahmed who is in need of heart transplant. He had already two heart surgeries, one in Syria and another one in Turkey. The young family was smuggled onto a dinghy boat from Turkey en route to Europe, but never made it that far. They were robbed by smugglers halfway through the dangerous journey and left stranded at sea for six hours. Malva was pregnant at the time. Their boat was eventually intercepted by Greek coast guards and sent back to Turkey.
“People are always smiling here” noted 32-year old Sondos Al Horani in Arabic. “I was surprised how kind people are here. Wherever you go, you find help. I hope one day we can give back to this country.” Al Horani’s family was resettled from Zaatari camp in Jordan and had been in Ottawa since the end of January.
69-year old Hisni Cercis and his family arrived just a week ago to Ottawa. The family of 5 is still recovering from the tragedies of war in Syria. Cercis’s son in-law was beheaded by ISIS.
Grandi who came to Canada from the United States, where he met with refugees, US lawmakers and resettlement agencies, has a packed schedule for the next three days in Ottawa. The High Commissioner wishes to personally thank Canadians for their outpouring support towards Syrian resettlement and relief efforts.
“I want to thank Canada for giving you the opportunity to come here. Many things are different from Syria, but it is exciting to have new challenges and the possibility to start a new life. The UN and governments will continue to work hard to find a peaceful solution for your country. And for you who are here, I wish you all the best and hope one day you will be able, as new Canadians, to also contribute and help in the reconstruction of your country.”
By Gisèle Nyembwe in Ottawa, Canada