Yellowknife residents came out to Northern United Place on Saturday night to officially welcome the first Syrian refugee family to the city.
The Alhajy family of six arrived in Yellowknife in mid-October, but for many locals this might have been their first chance to meet them.
Rami Kassem translated on behalf of Mustafa Alhajy, who says the family was shocked by all the support they received from the community.
“From the beginning they were not sure what was going to happen, how people would interact with them,” Kassem said.
“But they were amazed and shocked by the way people came and helped them and supported them.
“It was such a warm feeling and so emotional for them that they would find all the help and support here in a small city.
“They loved it, and they have special thanks for every single person in Yellowknife, including their sponsor group that brought them from the hell to the paradise.”
Lindsay Armer, a member of that sponsorship group, says the Alhajy’s have been adapting well and are enjoying life in Yellowknife.
“The family’s here and they’re integrating and it’s just so nice to see them getting to meet everybody and seeing the kids smile and play,” she said.
Parents Mustafa and Zeina have been taking English lessons and hope to improve their English to enroll in classes at Aurora College.
As for their four children, Armer says they’re all loving their new school.
“The kids are loving their school. Every time we see them they light up, and when you say, ‘how are things going?’ they say, ‘love school.'”
Another thing the kids love, Armer said, is the snow.
“Even Zeina and Mustafa love walking around town and getting fresh air. Every time we go outside and go for a walk they take this [big breath], they’re just relaxed and happy.”
Yellowknife’s growing Syrian community
Meanwhile, a separate sponsorship group is working to bring Mustafa’s sister to Yellowknife.
While bringing her here will take some time, Mustafa says he’s excited and hopes to reunite their entire family.
“He’s so excited,” Kassem translated. “He has another sister in Lebanon who still needs support and help, and his wife Zeina, she also has sisters and brothers.
“He understands that we can’t bring everybody, but the little they bring will be support and help for the people overseas and for them to reunite their family.”
Mayor Mark Heyck says Yellowknife will welcome more refugees to the city with open arms.
“It’s great to be able to see the Syrian community get built before our eyes here,” he said.
“To bring families that have those connections to them will certainly help each of the families adapt to a place like Yellowknife which is much different from their home.”