In the tumultuous times of humanity’s shared existence, it hardly seems fathomable nearly a decade has passed since our nation started accepting refugees from war-torn Syria. Incredibly, this weekend marked the seventh anniversary of Syrian refugee flights landing at Trudeau and Pearson International Airports, carrying with them the hopes and dreams of people fleeing the bullets and bombs of a civil war plaguing the northern region of their country.
If you recall, Canada’s acceptance of Syrians seeking refuge came by way of a flash point and the 2015 federal election. A grim photo snapped by Turkish journalist Nilüfer Demir of the body of two year old Alan Kurdi laying face down on a beach near Bodrum became very much a campaign issue. Kurdi’s family had been trying for some time to seek refuge in Canada and were attempting to cross the open sea to the Greek island of Kos on a rubber raft under the cover of night. Not long into the voyage, the craft capsized. The bodies of over one dozen refugees started washing up on the Mediterranean shore line some time around dawn September 2.
Since that day, Canada has opened its arms to those fleeing war and persecution. Approximately 75,000 Syrian refugees have come to our country to not only seek safety and a better life but to also add to our vibrant cultural mosaic.
Locally, Prince Edward County has had a role to play in welcoming those from the war torn region. The Al Jasem family were subsisting in a camp on the border of Lebanon near where their home and grocery business had been destroyed in bombing raids. The Al Jasems were ahead of the curve and landed here in October 2015 while their extended family members came in the winter months of 2016.
All told, some 75 people have come to the shelter of Prince Edward County thanks to the tireless efforts of the PEC Syria group who launched into action in the spirit of generosity and goodwill shortly before federal policy allowed the refugee flights to commence in earnest and haste.
Since that time, so many have acclimated to life in Canada and made successful strides towards both citizenship and business creation. Adnan Mustafa and Suhaila El Hussein started their popular Middle Eastern prepared food company Papa Ghanoush & Momma Hummus in Wellington. More recently Munir Touteh and his brother Marwan Touta of Picton launched a construction company, Touteh Construction Inc in 2022.
While some have stayed in Prince Edward County, others have moved on. Muhanned Msalatti arrived here with his parents in Sept 2019. His studies in civil engineering were disrupted and he had to start over, but he was accepted into civil engineering at York University. Because of the pandemic, he studied remotely until last December. Then the family moved from Picton to Toronto so he could attend in person.
Through the County Foundation, PEC Syria have established an education fund that has assisted several young people pursue their post-secondary ambitions.
As we remark on the anniversary of Canada’s humanitarian commitment to the Syrian Refugee crisis, displaced persons numbering in the millions are still in the northern reaches of Syria as the civil war enters its 12th year. Canada’s refuge policies must continue and, thankfully, the efforts of PEC Syria will ensure Prince Edward County is a safe and inclusive landing space for those simply trying to escape the horrors of war.
PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY