OTTAWA — Canadians' support for Syrian newcomers has been a beautiful example for the rest of the world, says the organizer of a virtual celebration to mark the fifth anniversary of Canada's welcoming Syrian refugees.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, the executive director of the Syrian Canadian Foundation, Bayan Khatib, said thousands of Canadians have volunteered to help Syrian refugees in almost every city and town in Canada.
Khatib, who came as a Syrian refugee to Canada more than 30 years ago, said most of the Syrian refugees her organization has worked with have learned English and found jobs thanks to the support they received from their communities.
"This has been a really successful example of Syrian refugees coming to a country (and) integrating well," she said
"Many of them have burning desire to give back to their communities and they have, in very big and small ways."
The first plane bearing Syrian refugees landed in Toronto on Dec. 10, 2015, following a promise by the Liberals during the 2015 election campaign to make it much easier for them to reach Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Thursday event his government was elected by Canadians to bring in more Syrian refugees.
"This was something that Canadians asked for and Canadians did," Trudeau said.
"I'm extremely proud that my government was the vessel for that desire by Canadians"
He said welcoming Syrian refugees didn't just mean a better future for them but also a better future for all Canadians.
Nearly 73,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada since 2015.
Trudeau noted that newly appointed Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is the first Syrian Canadian minister in cabinet and suggested perhaps some young people participating in Thursday's event will find themselves in cabinet and leading the country one day.
Alghabra, who immigrated to Canada from Syria more than 20 years ago, said refugees and immigrants often face challenges as they start their new lives in Canada and that he has faced some of those challenges himself.
"There are many moments of love and hope that help us overcome these challenges," Alghabra said in Arabic.
"I'm confident that you all will succeed and you will play a notable role in building Canada."
Several Syrian newcomers shared their stories as they continue rebuild their lives in their new country.
Khatib said she was initially sad the celebration couldn't happen in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now she realizes it was a blessing, with almost 700 people from across the country registering to attend online.
Khatib's organization is based in Mississauga, Ont., and provides services for newcomers in several cities in Ontario.
She said the private sponsorship program that allows Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor refugees has helped many to pitch in and help.
"The government always does have an important role to play in supporting (those affected by) a humanitarian crisis, but private citizens ... and community groups can come together to support refugees directly as well and that's what happened in Canada," she said.
Trudeau said the the private sponsorship program proved to be successful after being in place for more than 40 years
"(The program) is a Canadian model now used all around the world," he said. "This program is the story of all Canadians from big cities to the smallest towns, whose generosity and kindness has changed hundreds of thousands of lives."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2020
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press