CNN: Canadian city welcomes Syrian immigrants
By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, CNN
Updated 3:01 PM ET, Thu February 11, 2016
(CNN)From the outside, it looks like senior citizen housing on the outskirts of downtown Calgary, Alberta. Inside, it is anything but. Scores of children run the halls, and they cry, laugh and play with each other as their parents huddle at cafeteria-style tables.
As we walk in with our camera gear, their eyes focus sharply.
That's when you notice something is out of place: the very people you are looking at. Women are wearing headscarves, and the men are shorter and hardened. And there are children everywhere. Huge families, some with as many as nine children, huddle as volunteers begin dinner.
They have all been plucked from Syrian refugee camps across the Middle East, selected by Canadian security and diplomatic workers who first screen each potential immigrant, then determine where in Canada they will go.
Canada is on a path to accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. They will go to government-sponsored resettlement houses across several provinces.
Up to 1,500 will be resettled in Calgary, and this resettlement house on the outskirts of downtown will be their first stop.
The Margaret Chisholm Resettlement House is privately run by Calgary's Catholic Immigration Society. Under its contract, its staff and volunteers will be paid to turn these freshly arrived Syrians into Canadians. Anoush Newman, one of the directors, says the refugees have been homeless and countryless for so long, they are yearning for any place that will welcome them.
Countries surrounding Syria "don't give them citizenship," Newman says. "So they remain refugees for the rest of their lives."
Ziad Hendaoi is a father of four who arrived with his children and wife just 10 days ago. He speaks little English but explains that his family fled Aleppo, Syria, when his neighborhood was bombed.
They lived in a refugee camp in Lebanon, where Canadian officials screened him for this program.
Asked if he misses Syria, he answers "yes with all my heart." But he says that for the first time in a long time, he feels his family is safe, and Canada is his new home.
Fariborz Birjandin, the program's director, says his goal is to turn these newly landed immigrants into Canada's next generation of citizens.
"You won't even recognize these kids in three months," he says. "We realize they have a lot of fears and a lot of hope. Ten days ago, they didn't even know they were coming to Canada."
Under the program, the children will go to school, and the parents will be taught Canadian customs, Canadian law and will be aided in finding work. For the next two years, they will be involved in an intensive resettlement program that Birjandin calls a wrap-around system. Social workers, volunteers and professionals will surround the families with everything they need to assimilate into Canadian life. In their third year in Canada, the refugees can apply to become full citizens.
"They're fantastic people that've gone thru hell," Birjandin says. "They have lost their homes, they have lost everything they had and became refugees."
Now, from the generosity of the Canadian government, these war-torn Syrians are being welcomed with open arms in their new and, he says, hopefully permanent home.