Iraqi refugee family lands at Trudeau airport after 2-year wait

It was a moment years in the making.

Raed and Juliette Barbar and their daughters Nadeem and Nardeen landed at Montreal’s Trudeau airport Monday, nearly three years after fleeing their home in Qaraqosh, Iraq at gunpoint — and almost two years after the Hope Community Church in Lennoxville applied to bring them to Canada from their precarious existence in Amman, Jordan.

The plane landed early, but it was another three hours before the Barbars walked through the plate glass doors in the international arrivals area and into the arms of relatives who hadn’t seen them in two years.

Juliette’s parents, her brother and his family, who have been resettled in Ottawa, waved Canadian flags and held up signs that said “Welcome to Canada.”

When mother and daughter were reunited, neither was able to hold back their tears.

Reunited after 2 years

Juliette Barbar is reunited with her sister-in-law after being separated for two years. They had been ordered out of their house in Iraq at gunpoint. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

Long-awaited welcome

About 20 church members from Lennoxville were also part of the welcoming party. They’d left home at 4:30 a.m. to be there when the plane landed.

“We couldn’t be late,” said Paul McLean, the church group’s organizer. “With the bridges and construction and Montreal traffic, we just said, ‘Let’s go up and have a little breakfast — and make sure we’re on time.'”

McLean first met Raed Barbar on the telephone in August 2015, and he’s travelled to Jordan twice since then to meet him and other refugees.

Raed Barbar reunited with his sponsors

Raed Barbar, centre, poses with Paul McLean and wife Willette. The McLeans’ church group in Lennoxville privately sponsored the Barbar family. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

So eager was his church group to do its part to stem the refugee crisis, people in the community raised enough funds to sponsor four families.

But working through the application process turned out to be laboriously slow.

“At the same time we started to sponsor them, they applied to Australia,” said McLean. “The Australian government went a little quicker than the Canadian government. So we lost three of those families to Australia.”

Furnished apartment – and ready friends

In Lennoxville, an apartment is waiting, fully furnished.

One of the Barbars’ new neighbours, Brittany Lowd, was also at the airport.

“I really wanted to be here to greet them this morning, so they have a familiar face when they go home,” said Lowd. “I’m right across the hall, so if they need something, I’m there and they already know who I am.”

Iraqi family reunion

Juliette Barbar is reunited with her father, who has resettled in Ottawa since fleeing Iraq, and meets her niece, Julia. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

Fatima Batassa, who immigrated to Canada from Morocco when she was 10, has offered her services as an interpreter.

Neither Raed nor Juliette speak much English, or any French.

Batassa is also ready to introduce them to the way things work in Canada.

“We don’t think of a microwave, that you can’t put aluminum in it,” said Batassa. “They don’t know about those things, or the system for the bus or things like that.”

McLean is confident the Barbars will adjust quickly.

“Raed is a businessman, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s a joker, he’s a hard worker. He had three different businesses over there,” he said. “A definite leader in his community, you could see that when we met with him.”

Hope Community Church refugee sponsors

These members of the Hope Community Church in Lennoxville left home at 4:30 a.m. to meet the Iraqi refugee family they sponsored to settle in Canada. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

‘So proud we did it’

The Canadian private refugee sponsorship program was capped in January, but groups in Ayer’s Cliff and Eastman are still waiting for their families to arrive from Jordan. 

McLean’s group is drawing on its experience and untapped funds to help them.

“I’m so proud that we did it, I’m happy that we have the ability to do it as private citizens,” McLean said. “But I’d love to see the government put the resources behind it and speed the process up.”

“These folks aren’t in a resort in Mexico,” he pointed out. “Their lives are on hold … They’re going to be an addition to our country, and we’d love to get them here quicker.”

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