Syrian refugees assist Canada’s wildfire victims

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and housed in makeshift shelters as firefighters battle the blaze.

Canada fire
Police officers direct traffic under a cloud of smoke from a wildfire in Fort McMurray on May 6 [Jason Franson/Canadian Press via AP]

Toronto, Canada – Tareq Hadhad knows what it means to lose everything in an instant.

That’s why the 24-year-old Syrian refugee and his family did not hesitate to offer help to the tens of thousands of Canadians displaced by the deadly wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, last month.

“We really know the meaning of losing everything in one moment … To lose everything in one moment you will lose your whole past, everything you have been building since you were born,” Hadhad told Al Jazeera.

But the Hadhads – Tareq, his parents and three siblings – were only reunited in Canada last January. How much help could they offer, while still struggling to learn English, find jobs and get accustomed to their new surroundings?

That’s when Tareq’s father, Isam Hadhad, with little to do at home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia – a small, university town on Canada’s east coast where the Hadhads have been resettled – decided to go back to what he does best.


“In Syria, it was my father’s passion to make chocolates. He was an excellent chocolatier, and he established a factory in Damascus for 20 years,” Tareq said.

Now the family sells its handmade chocolates – stuffed with pistachios, almonds, and other nuts and fruits – every Saturday at a local farmer’s market and caters at local events.

A portion of the money they make during the month of May will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross and other groups working on Fort McMurray disaster relief, Tareq said.

“We thought, ‘We know this feeling,’ so we decided to support them.”

About 90,000 people were displaced when flames engulfed the northern Alberta oil town of Fort McMurray and the surrounding areas earlier this month.

Families were evacuated and have been housed in makeshift shelters across the province as firefighters continue to battle the blaze.

Officials in Fort McMurray have set a voluntary return date of June 1, but they say that it is contingent on a last-minute safety evaluation, including air quality in the city.

Canada wildfire leaves trail of destruction

Local wildfire officials said they expect to continue to battle the fire for several weeks, if not months.

Lucille Harper of Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace, a local group that helped sponsor the Hadhad family, said it was clear the crisis in Fort McMurray touched them.

“It just speaks to them in a way where they say, ‘OK, we can’t do a lot, but we want to do something and we want to show our support,'” Harper told Al Jazeera.

And the Hadhads aren’t alone.

 Canada evacuates oil workers as wildfire spreads

Canada has resettled more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since last autumn through government-backed and private sponsorship, and refugees across the country are providing whatever they can to the Canadians affected by the fire.

In Calgary, Syrian refugees used social media to collect donations – from as little as $5 to basic essentials such as clothes, diapers, and medical supplies.

“When I saw what happened, I remembered what happened to us and I wanted to do something,” said Rita Kanchet Kallas, who arrived in Canada last December with her husband and young son.

Kallas, one of the refugees who collected the donations from families in the Calgary area, told Al Jazeera they filled 16 hampers of emergency items and donated $400 to the Red Cross.

They are still collecting whatever they can to help, including a bicycle for a young boy who was displaced, she said.

Even Kallas’ five-year-old son, Elie, wanted to help.

I told him the story about Fort McMurray and the children who lost everything. He asked me, ‘Do they still have enough toys?’ Without any words, he [went] to his room … and said, ‘I want to give my toys to those children,'” Kallas recalled.

“We are good people, we want to be a good part of this society,” she added. “We will do our best to give back the good things [Canadians have done] for us.”

 Syrian refugees among Canada’s Fort McMurray fire evacuees

Source: Al Jazeera