Whitehorse to welcome third family of Syrian refugees

A third family of Syrian refugees is coming to Whitehorse. The Omar family of four will be arriving in the territory at the end of March, and is being sponsored by the Riverdale Baptist Church.

A third family of Syrian refugees is coming to Whitehorse.

The Omar family of four will be arriving in the territory at the end of March, and is being sponsored by the Riverdale Baptist Church.

“They’re very motivated,” said Hillary Gladish, who’s helping to organize the sponsorship. “They’re very excited to come.”

The Omar family is Kurdish, and left Syria three years ago because of the ongoing civil war. The family has been living in Iraq since then.

Mohamed Omar has a PhD in geology and his wife, Shereen, has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and languages. Gladish said they’re both very fluent in English. Their two children, a girl and a boy, are three and four years old.

Gladish said she’s been corresponding with the couple by email, and they seem unfazed by her description of the climate in Whitehorse.

“They’re just really happy to be able to make a life somewhere else,” she said. “I think that living in Iraq has been very difficult for them.”

The Omar family will move into an apartment that’s been prepared for them in Riverdale. Gladish said the church is no longer actively fundraising, but is still looking for donations of clothing for the young girl and winter gear for Shereen.

The Riverdale Baptist Church has already sponsored one family of Syrian refugees, the Ahmet family, who arrived in September. Both they and the Aarafat family, sponsored by Yukon Cares, came to Whitehorse under Canada’s blended visa program. Under that program, the federal government provides up to six months of financial support, with private sponsors responsible for another six months.

But the Omar family is being privately sponsored by the Baptist Church, meaning there will be no contribution from the federal government. Gladish said the church has raised about $45,000 in donations, as well as $15,000 from Yukon Cares and $18,000 from the Yukon government, to support Syrian refugee families.

The church actually began the process of bringing the Omars to Canada before it applied to sponsor the Ahmet family, but the process has taken longer because there is no Canadian immigration office in Iraq. As a result, the federal government estimates it can take 53 months to process applications for private refugee sponsorships in that country. That could have meant years of waiting for the family.

But Gladish said the Canadian government ended up sending workers into Iraq to interview refugees, and the Omar family was able to get into the second group of people being interviewed.

The Aarafat family has now been in Whitehorse for more than a year, while the Ahmet family arrived six months ago today. Gladish said the Ahmets are doing well, though the cold weather took some getting used to when they first arrived.

“That was all they could talk about, how cold it was,” she said.

The parents, Yaser and Semra, are now taking English classes, and the children are in school, playing soccer and taking piano lessons.

Gladish said Yaser is working as a mechanic a couple of times a week, and Semra is hoping to work at a spa.

They’ve also been helping to prepare for the Omar family’s arrival.

“I think they’re quite eager to meet this new family,” Gladish said.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, electionsyukon.ca has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read