March 7, 2016

WHITEHORSE - A family of 11 Syrian Muslim refugees were greeted by 100 people when they arrived in January.

"It was a very happy moment," said Raquel de Queiroz, head of the interfaith group Yukon Cares, who greeted them at the airport. "We mobilized the whole community to make this happen."

Yukon Cares sponsored the family of Hussein and Fatima Aarafat and their nine children, aged 21 to 16 months, with the help of the Diocese of Whitehorse and the Vancouver Archdiocese.

Volunteers handed out extra layers to wear as the refugees moved from the airport to the car to their new home.

"We're definitely going to teach them ways to stay warm and how to dress for the weather, and how to have fun in the snow as well," said de Queiroz.

"I have no doubt that our volunteers will show them how to have a good time."

Yukon Cares is a newly created community group of members of various faiths and backgrounds with a common concern - helping Syrian refugees. This is the first family it has sponsored.

The Whitehorse Diocese helped plenty of families in need over the 1980s and '90s, said Father Kieran Kilcommons, administrator of Sacred Heart Cathedral until recently.

Kilcommons said it's not unusual in the North for people of various faiths to unite over something like this.


"It's a wonderful experience of people setting aside their differences and working together for a greater common good."

He and de Queiroz were amazed at the outpouring of generosity that led the group to sponsor a family of 11.

Sacred Heart Cathedral "is a parish that's very strong on social justice," de Queiroz said. The community is too. "The support has been just incredible."

Yukon Cares raised $70,000 in just four months, she said. "We only had to do one fundraising event."

That event was a spaghetti dinner for 200 guests which sold out within 20 minutes. Then, people just started dropping off cheques. By the end of the night, they had raised $11,000.

In total, the group raised more than $100,000 and was able to donate a portion of it to a nearby Baptist church that was sponsoring another refugee family.