Mayor who gave up home to Syrian refugees proud of town's welcome
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018 9:02AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2018 10:04AM EDT
An Ottawa-area community offered a true small-town welcome to a family of Syrian refugees, including the mayor of North Dundas who gave up his home for five months so the family could get on its feet.
“It’s just been a heartwarming experience,” Mayor Eric Duncan told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday following a story by CTV Ottawa.
“And the reaction over the last few days to see the news go out, people have been tweeting and sharing it on social media. It’s just heartwarming to see the refugee story in a positive light, considering some of the tension or the discussion that goes on around the country today.”
Duncan was part of a group of about 20 residents in the community of about 2,400 who decided in 2015 to raise the necessary money to sponsor a Syrian family to come to Canada. They found a couple with three children who had fled their war-torn homeland.
It took about two and half years to get the necessary approvals and the family arrived in February. But the sponsorship group had little warning of their arrival, so the family had no place to stay.
Duncan, who is 30 and single, offered his home in the village of Winchester to allow the family to settle and save for a place of their own. The mayor lived with his mother and stepfather until the end of July, when the family was able to move into a rented home only a few minutes away.
“I had it pretty easy. It took me a day or two notice to move out of my house and my mom and my stepfather Gary were willing to let me move in for a few months. So I lived there and kind of went back to my teenage days,” he said.
Dania Al Muazzen and Adel Al Ghorani and their son and two daughters fled their home on the outskirts of Damascus after a bomb obliterated a house a few doors down the street. They ended up in Cairo where they said they were not made to feel welcome. They lived in a dingy apartment and were not permitted to work.
Duncan says the family is doing very well in North Dundas and he’s proud of his community’s welcome. The kids have settled into school, the family is receiving language training and the parents have part-time jobs and have volunteered in the community.
“We are working with them over the course of the year being here to make sure they have a foundation for being successful in Canada for the long term,” said Duncan. He says the family is “perfect ambassadors” who are “just so grateful for a second chance.”
Between October 2015 and February 2018, nearly 52,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. About 22,000 of them have settled in Toronto. Duncan says he is sharing his story to show refugees that they can find a home in small towns, too.
Many people stepped forward to help, including someone who donated a car that was fixed by a local high school class with parts contributed by area retailers. Teachers covered the cost of soccer fees for the couple’s teenage son and teammates pitched in with cleats and other equipment. A doctor and dentist immediately offered services to the family.
“I think one of the things that people see whenever refugees come to Canada is very often they settle in large urban centres – Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. And we wanted to show that refugees or immigrants can settle into rural communities and be welcome.”
Duncan, first elected at 18 and not running in this fall’s election, says he would consider giving up his home again to more refugees if needed.
“I didn’t mind living with my mom. People said, ‘Oh what a sacrifice you had to make, moving in with your mom.’ But I said, 'I got my laundry done, I got meals all the time.' It was great. I said to the family they could stay as long as they want in my house, I didn’t mind. But I don’t know how Mom would answer that.”
This year, I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life when I gave up my home a Syrian refugee family for 5 mos. I'm happy to report that our family have found a great spot to rent in Winchester & I am back in my house. They are wonderful, kind & caring people! pic.twitter.com/q3sv3XE8zF— Eric Duncan (@MayorDuncan) August 17, 2018