'You can find freedom in Canada': Syrian family grateful for Yukon welcome
The weather was cold, but the welcome warm.
That's how Mohamed Omar describes his family's arrival in Whitehorse last week, when they became the third family of Syrian refugees to settle in the city in just over a year.
"We're very happy. We met such beautiful and kind people here in Whitehorse," Omar said, in fluent English.
"Everyone dreamed to come to Canada, because it's a diverse country, and you know can say that the future for your children will be secure in Canada, and you can find freedom in Canada."
Omar, his wife Shereen, and their young children Rameen and Eva, fled the war in Syria three years ago to settle in Iraq. When the opportunity came to move to Canada, they jumped at the chance.
"There is no working, no job opportunities, and no… schools for our children, in Iraq. So, no hope, no future," Omar said.
"You are in a very difficult situation to take a decision, you know. If you stay, it is very hard for you and for your children. If you move, it's also very hard... you left some people behind."
'No problem. Part of Canada'
Their private sponsorship in Whitehorse was organized by the Riverdale Baptist Church, with financial help from the Yukon government and Yukon Cares. A local business owner has also given the Omar family a rent-free apartment for one year.
Mohamed Omar is a geologist with four decades of experience working in the oil fields of Syria. He hopes to find work in his field in Yukon, and plans to start looking next week.
He's untroubled by the remoteness and relatively crisp climate of his new Yukon home — "No problem. Part of Canada," he says.
It's a long way from the "disaster" he sees unfolding in Syria — not a civil war, but a war against innocent Syrians, he says.
Now he's thinking mostly about his children's future, and the opportunities they'll have as Canadians.
"I think the environment is available for them to express themselves," Omar said. "To study at schools, and to grow up here, and to learn the values of the new community and to integrate with the people over here.
"Everything will be respected — right to say, right to write, right to read."