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Second Syrian refugee family arrives in Whitehorse

A second family of Syrian refugees arrived in Whitehorse Thursday night, after nearly a year of waiting and preparations.

A second family of Syrian refugees arrived in Whitehorse Thursday night, after nearly a year of waiting and preparations.

The Ahmet family flew in from Vancouver and were greeted at the airport by their hosts, a committee from the Riverdale Baptist Church.

Hussein Aarafat and two of his sons, members of Yukon’s first family of Syrian refugees that arrived in January, were also present at the Whitehorse airport to welcome the new arrivals. Tareef Jaamour, a Syrian refugee currently studying at Yukon College, was also on hand to translate.

“For the family to actually arrive, it was just this incredible moment,” said Hillary Gladish, with the Riverdale Baptist Church. “And now that they’re here and we’re meeting them for the first time, it’s just this sense of all the possibility and really looking forward to the future.”

The family flew to Canada from Turkey, and were exhausted from the trip. But they were also very grateful, Gladish said.

“The translators spoke with the husband and welcomed the family here and the mom expressed this gratitude,” she said. “She was just so happy to see everyone, and she was just so happy to be here.”

The couple has three children, a 12-year-old and two 11-year-old twins. Gladish said the family doesn’t speak any English, but the mother was trying to spell out people’s names from their nametags at the airport yesterday, which were printed in English and Arabic.

“She would say ‘I’m not looking at the Arabic!’” Gladish said.

After their arrival, the family was taken to their new home, which Gladish said is centrally located, within an easy walk or bus ride of downtown and the Canada Games Centre.

She said she would meet with them again this afternoon to take a walk around the neighbourhood and to make sure they have the groceries they need. Prior to the Ahmet family’s arrival, the committee met with the Aarafat family to hear feedback about their own transition to life in Whitehorse and what they needed during their first days here.

Gladish said she’s also set up appointments for the family to get identification and to open a bank account.

She said the family will take English classes at the multicultural centre, and the children should be enrolled in school shortly.

The committee has everything it needs in the way of material goods to support the family, Gladish said. But she’s still looking for gift cards to places like Canadian Tire or Walmart.

“If people are interested in helping … then that is probably by far one of the best things that they could help us with.”

She said she’s hoping to organize an event to let the community get to know the family once they’ve settled in.

The Ahmet family has come to Canada under the blended visa program, which matches refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency with private sponsors in Canada. Under this program, the federal government provides up to six months of financial support, with the private sponsors responsible for another six months.

The Riverdale Baptist Church has raised about $45,600 to support Syrian refugee families and the Yukon government is contributing another $18,500.

The church is still working to bring a third Syrian family to Whitehorse under an entirely private sponsorship.

Contact Maura Forrest at