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Welcome to P.E.I.: First Syrian refugee families arrive in P.E.I. this week


The first two families of government-sponsored Syrian refugees arrived in snowy Prince Edward Island Monday - almost a month later than expected.

But Richard Brown, minister responsible for immigration in P.E.I., says changing timelines in Ottawa may have delayed the arrival of refugees to the Island, but the province is ready to welcome them with a full settlement plan.

"If it's going to take a little longer to do things right, I think we should. We don't want to rush them in and take them from one bad situation to another one," Brown said.

"Our government departments are ready and prepared, the Newcomers Association is ready and prepared. We're all working together here for the betterment of the new Canadian citizens that are coming out of Syria."

A family of seven and a family of five from Syria arrived in P.E.I. Monday after an exhausting 24 hours of travel. Among the seven young children in these families was a tiny six-month-old baby.

They got an immediate taste of Canadian winter as they disembarked from their plane and onto the tarmac of the Charlottetown airport, with snow swirling around them on a blustery snow day in P.E.I.

"I asked one of the kids, 'Is the snow much different from sand?'" Brown says he asked one of the children.

"'It's a little colder,' he said. Of course this was through their interpreters."

None of the individuals who arrived this week speak English, nor do they have family or contacts on the Island.

That's where the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada comes in. It regularly welcomes refugees to the Island. Executive director Craig Mackie says the only thing different about Syrian refugees is that more of them are expected to arrive within a short period of time.

Prince Edward Island expected to welcome 100 Syrian refugees before the end of 2015 and another 150 through January and February, but those targets have been moved back as a result of federal delays.

The additional time has helped the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada to ensure its staff and volunteers are fully prepared to meet the needs of the families now that they are finally arriving on the Island.

"We're glad to see them starting to come now. I imagine that we're going to start to see a steady number of arrivals," Mackie said.

Both he and Brown lauded the generosity shown by Islanders in welcoming the refugee families.

More than 300 Islanders have signed up to volunteer with the newcomers association and a centre set up to accept donations of outdoor clothing and furniture had to stop taking donations due to the overwhelming response.

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