A Syrian refugee who arrived in Vancouver on Monday with his family said it was his dream to come to Canada, and he thanked the federal government and his new countrymen for giving his family the opportunity.
Samer Alragheb, his wife, Amna, and their 18-month old son were greeted by about a dozen members of a Richmond church at Vancouver Airport's international arrivals area. Members of the Syrian Canadian Council of B.C. were also on hand.
Mr. Alragheb held his son as he spoke with a small group of reporters through an interpreter.
Mr. Alragheb and his wife spent years in a refugee camp. However, he had no complaints on Monday.
"Extremely happy," he said through the interpreter.
When asked about the process to get to Canada, he said, "Everything was good." He said the Canadians he had met so far, as he navigated the refugee process, were very welcoming.
Enas Alsaleh of the Syrian Canadian Council held a sign to welcome the family and brought a pair of knitted mittens and a hat that she said a volunteer made for the young boy.
Subrata Chakrabarti of the Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond, one of the sponsors, said the family had lived in the Syrian city of Idlib before they were forced to flee.
Mr. Alragheb said the situation that has unfolded in his native Syria has been heartbreaking.
"The Syrian people are innocent. They've been treated very bad. What's happened is an extreme tragedy," he said.
The Alragheb family is among 25,000 Syrian refugees – a mix of private sponsorships and government-assisted arrivals – who are expected to settle in Canada as part of the Liberal government's election pledge. So far, only a few have come to British Columbia. Slightly more than 200 privately sponsored refugees are expected to arrive in the province by the end of the year. It is still not clear what the total of private sponsorships will eventually be or how many government-sponsored refugees will settle in B.C. The province has told Ottawa it could accommodate up to 3,500.
The Mennonite Central Committee is the other sponsor.
Mr. Chakrabarti, who handled the group's application and organized their arrival, said church members have found the family an apartment in Richmond and will provide food and money, and arrange for classes in English as a second language.
Mr. Chakrabarti said the church has raised enough to support the family for a year. It has budgeted about $2,500 a month, which includes rent.
Mr. Chakrabarti said the plan was to take the family from the airport straight to their new apartment, a basement suite. The initial plan had been to have them stay with a church member for two weeks.
Mr. Chakrabarti said the group had been thinking about sponsoring a refugee family for some time, and the death of Alan Kurdi was a catalyst. The three-year-old Syrian boy, his brother and his mother died in September when their refugee boat capsized. Photos of Alan Kurdi's lifeless body were printed around the world.
Mr. Chakrabarti said the church filed the sponsorship application in September. He said it was matched up with the Alragheb family through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. Chakrabarti said the family spent years in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He said church members plan to introduce them to Canadian life slowly.