Islands welcome first refugees from Syria

Sandspit is the first islands community to welcome refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Sandspit welcomed Haida Gwaii’s first Syrian refugees last week—Enes and Magdalena Said, who arrived June 29. The core sponsorship group in Sandspit were in the midst of building the couple their own cabin and were caught off-guard when they received an email on June 23 saying the couple would be arriving in less than a week.

“We never actually received notification that we had been approved to sponsor them,” said sponsor Laura Pattison in a Facebook post.

Nonetheless, the sponsorship group in Sandspit was happy to get the news and quickly found alternate housing for the couple until the cabin is completed.

“They will be moving in with one of the sponsors for the first few weeks, as we complete a guest cabin that we are currently constructing for them,” Pattison told the Observer.

Enes and Magdalena are originally from Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, but have been living in Turkey for more than a year.

The young couple were greeted by a small welcome party in Sandspit.

“We were excited to learn that they do speak some English, so we have been able to communicate without too much help from Google Translate. We also had invaluable assistance on the arrival day from Mukhtar Issa, who is a fantastic translator,” said Pattison. The couple has already started fine-tuning their English, with the help of their new neighbour, Emmy O’Gorman.

“They are very happy to be here, although of course they are still a bit overwhelmed and jet-lagged,” said Pattison.

“We’re excited for them to meet everyone in the community once they’ve had a chance to settle in.”

Sandspit residents Laura Pattison, Heron Wier, Civa Gauthier, Behn Cochrane and Evan Putterill have been the driving force for the Sandspit refugee sponsorship.

“All of us grew up here on Haida Gwaii and are very excited to share this place with new residents,” said Pattison.  The group of five will be responsible for the couple’s basic needs for the next year, or until they find work.

It has been found that the couple does have family elsewhere in Canada and it is not clear how long the young couple will stay in Sandspit.

“Now that they have safely arrived, I’m confident that they will find a warm welcome and lots of support here in Sandspit and the rest of the islands,” said Pattison.