25,000 Syrian refugees are here, life begins anew

The federal government met its goal over the weekend to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. As the new arrivals adjust to life in this country, one refugee father and his Canadian sponsor describe how the resettlement process worked out for them.

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Arsho Zakarian helped sponsor Kevork Manougian and his family, who arrived in Canada on Feb. 19.

In total, Zakarian sponsored Manougian, his mother, his wife, and their young son. She said she didn't know the family beforehand, but was matched with the family through an Armenian community group.

She told CTV's Canada AM that everyone in the Armenian-Canadian community is pitching in to help the refugees, collecting household items for them, and searching to find them apartments and jobs.

"Of course everything is not perfect," Zakarian said, but everyone is "doing their best."

Manougian, 35, said before coming to Canada, he and his family lived in Aleppo, Syria, where they faced the constant threat of bombing and several times missed being struck by mere "seconds."

The family eventually fled Syria for Lebanon, where they remained for nine months before coming to Canada.

He said he can't thank Zakarian enough for sponsoring his family, and giving them a chance at a new life. "We thank her because of this step that she took," he said. "She's like an aunt to me now."

And even though Manougian, an experienced goldsmith and musician, has only been in Canada a short while, the Armenian community is working hard to help him and his family settle as quickly as possible, Zakarian said.

This means helping to show them around, explaining the transit system, taking them to medical appointments, and editing Manougian's resume to help fit North American standards.

And it appears that all the work may be paying off.

"He had his first (job) interview last Tuesday," Zakarian said.

On Saturday, a plane carrying the 25,000th refugee landed in Canada. The Liberals had initially campaigned on bringing 25,000 refugees to this country by the end of 2015. However, the party later pushed back its deadline to the end of February.

Speaking from B.C. on Saturday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada's massive resettlement program will serve as an example for other nations.

"I think a lot of countries around the world are looking at Canada as an example, on how we were able to do this in a safe manner, in a manner that shows Canadian compassion, but integrates these families very quickly into Canadian society," he said.

Syrian Catholic bishop holds mass in Laval

The 25,000 refugees, who have been resettled in different cities across the country, are already making their mark in many communities.

In Laval, Que., Canada's first-ever Syrian Catholic bishop held his first mass on Sunday.

Pope Francis recently appointed Bishop Paul Antoine Nassif to the St-Ephrem Syrian Catholic church.

The bishop said it's one of his major goals to help the Syrian refugees integrate into Canadian life.

There are only five Syrian Catholic churches in Canada, but with the growing influx of refugees, the congregations are expected to grow.

Many of the parishioners at St-Ephrems expect the church to play a central role in helping the refugee families adjust.

Parishioner Murad Yousef Hannoush is sponsoring five people in the next few weeks. He said many of the refugee families attended weekly church services back in Syria.

"It's part of their life," he said. "It's very, very important, spiritually, faithfully."

With files from CTV Vancouver and CTV Montreal


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