Large multicultural crowd welcomes newest members of Island community

Mitch MacDonald
Published on March 13, 2016

“Amazing” is one of the few words that fits Syrian Sandra Antoun’s description of the warm welcome she’s received in P.E.I.

“Amazing” is one of the few words that fits Sandra Antoun’s description of the warm welcome she’s received in P.E.I.

The 21-year-old Syrian immigrated with her father, mother and two brothers in February as refugees looking to start a new life in the province.

“P.E.I. and the people here have been amazing,” Antoun said during a welcome reception held at Murphy’s Community Centre on Saturday. “A lot of people and families have shown us support to improve our lives here. Even today, there’s a lot of the people communicating with us from other nationalities.”

A packed crowd featuring a diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures was only fitting for Saturday’s official welcome to the approximate 250 Syrian refugees who’ve immigrated to the province in the past couple months.

The reception was hosted by Premier Wade MacLauchlan and served as an introduction between Syrians and the many cultures already living in P.E.I.

MacLauchlan said the diversity is a major strength in P.E.I. and Canada’s overall culture.

“Canada is better from our differences, and better because we learn from each other and we build a beautiful community together,” he said. “If I have one message, it’s that today we are all Prince Edward Islanders. We’re here as newcomers and as people who are working together.”

Although the experience has left Antoun’s family with a new start, it’s been somewhat overwhelming.

“It’s also a time for discovering a new area and learning how to start a new life,” she said. “But it’s amazing.”

Antoun’s family is originally from Al-Zabadani, one of the areas heavily affected by the ongoing civil war in Syria.

While they moved to Lebanon about four years ago, Antoun said they still faced a number of difficulties.

Eventually, her father connected with a friend currently living in P.E.I., who teamed with the First Baptist Church to sponsor the family’s immigration to Canada.

“We’re thankful for God because my father’s friend from school is here,” said Antoun. “The First Baptist Church, they sponsored us with him to come here.”

Saturday’s reception gave credit to the many volunteers and sponsors across the province who helped bring in refugees.

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey credited Islanders for rallying around the newcomers since the federal government announced last fall to accept at least 25,000 refugees.

P.E.I. is set to receive about 100 more Syrian refugees by the end of this year.

“Prince Edward Island stepped up in numbers well beyond our small size,” said Casey.

He also ensured newcomers the support would continue while they find their own ways to contribute to Canada.

“Your community will rally around you to help you find a foothold here,” he said. “But in just a matter of time, you will be anxious to see how you will be able to contribute to the future of this community, province and country.”

Antoun already has her mind made up on how she wants to contribute.

She’s now taking English lessons, and hopes to enroll in UPEI next year.

It will be her “third chance” at getting a university education after previously having to quit her studies in both Syria and Lebanon.

After having done some work with the United Nations in Lebanon, she hopes to either have a career in nursing or humanitarian work.

“I started my job as a volunteer to help Syrian families in Lebanon,” she said. “I loved my job, when I arrived in Canada I was looking to find the same kind of work to help Syrian families here.”