Long journey ends with welcome

Syrian family finally ready for new life in Pictou

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Pictou’s second Syrian family will be officially welcomed to the community this Thursday, Oct. 5.

Taking place at Pictou United Church, 5:30 to 7 p.m., the event will be as much a thank you from the Albarri family to the community as it is a welcome.

The family — father Yasser Albarri, mother Nada Alaa Eddin, daughters Nagham and Ghazal, newborn Jude, and cousin Shadi Alaa Eddin — have been in Pictou since May. They arrived to Nova Scotia on May 25, however the CAiRN group opted to delay the official welcome as to give the family time to adjust, accommodate Nada who was at the time pregnant, and also to make sure it didn’t get missed in the summer shuffle.

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“It was running into June,” explained Donna Collins, a member of the sponsoring group Communities Assisting Refugees Now.

“You want to give them two to three weeks anyway, on the ground, before you hit them with a whole bunch of people. You want to gauge how they’d feel about that. We’re always trying to be aware of what they truly want and not what we want, which sometimes gets lost in translation.”

Still, the welcome comes much earlier than Paris Immigration indicated.

The family was sponsored through the United Church of Canada, and much of the work locally was handled by Collins. The process was wrought with drama — with Paris repeating throughout that it would take 48 months for the family to relocate, and declaring every new step to be a permanent file closer if missed or delayed, said Collins.

It was additionally hampered by dual language barriers – English butting against French and Arabic – and errors with the original refugee filing process. The family’s daughters, for example, bear the incorrect family name of “Al Brri” which, while wrong, legally is their name for the time being. Collins also mentioned an issue regarding a conflict between dates of birth and dates of registration of birth.

However, Collins and the Albarri family did have a couple of aces to play, one being that Nada is the sister of Lema Aladdin who is the mother in the first Syrian family to settle in Pictou. The other is Bader Alabrazi, who is based in Turkey and will be part of the town’s eventual third refugee family.

Alabrazi, a civil engineering student who has worked with the Canadian government, speaks multiple languages — including Arabic, French and English. He was not only able to help with the paperwork but also give it a one day turn around.

This left Collins with a triangle of information from Pictou, Turkey and Algeria, or an info-square if one were to include Paris.

Collins and husband Stephen MacKenzie were first asked for information two weeks before Christmas, a request which had to be completed within two months or be closed forever, and were advised of the 48-month time frame. By February the file was complete, however the 48-month time frame seemingly remained.

Other hiccups came along, such as the repeated but eventually sorted error of signing a section of paperwork only meant to be signed if the family did not have children. The family had to go through medical screening and an interview process, however, it wasn’t clear to them who all had to go. Mom and Dad travelled seven hours to comply, only to find out weeks later that the daughters were also needed.

However, it dawned on Collins that this was actually a positive sign because if medical clearance was being conducted the time frame had to be greatly reduced from the repeatedly stated 48 months.

And in the end this proved to be true. Just three months after their file was completed, the Albarri family was in Pictou.

Collins said that Syrian food will be served at the welcome/thank you, and while the Albarri family were brought to Pictou through a different process than the Aladdins, donations are still welcome, as are gifts — especially winter items and clothing.


Stephen MacKenzie and Donna Collins with the mounds of paperwork needed to be processed to allow the Albarri family to settle in Canada. The family have been in Pictou since May but will be officially welcomed on Thursday at an event at Pictou United Church. (Cameron photo)

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Aaron Cameron
Aaron Cameron has been a staff reporter with the Advocate since 2011. Aaron Cameron does not "do" bios due to an overwhelming fear of writing in the third person