With waves of humanity crashing upon the shores of Europe, and Manitobans rallying to offer refuge, Free Press readers voted the Syrian refugee crisis the top international story of 2015.

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With waves of humanity crashing upon the shores of Europe, and Manitobans rallying to offer refuge, Free Press readers voted the Syrian refugee crisis the top international story of 2015.

The Syrian refugee crisis received twice as many votes from readers as the second-ranked Paris terrorist attacks story and five times as many votes as the mass shootings in the U.S.

"The story arc of the refugee crisis connected with our readers at a number of levels,'' said Free Press editor Paul Samyn. "Initially, it was the concern of the mass of humanity fleeing Syria. Then it was part of the debate that was the federal election, largely because of the shock from the captivating image of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy. Finally, it was about efforts both in our city and across the country to welcome them to Canada."

In Manitoba, with its history as a haven for refugees, the plight of the Syrian refugees struck a chord with many long before the devastating image of the lifeless three-year-old boy face down on a beach in Turkey shocked the world.

Alan Kurdi (left), with his brother Galib.

CP

Alan Kurdi (left), with his brother Galib.

More than a year ago, the Refuge Winnipeg coalition of faith and community groups was formed and set out to raise $120,000 to sponsor three large Syrian families.

Volunteers from all walks of life rallied to house, furnish and feed the families who'd been languishing in Lebanon.

They arrived in Winnipeg in October and were taken under the wing of sponsors who accompanied them to medical appointments, got the kids registered for school and are committed to supporting and mentoring them during their first year in Canada.

The plight of Syrian refugees roused people's compassion in communities throughout the province.

In Altona, Build a Village is sponsoring 45 Syrian refugees. The first family arrived Dec. 19. The rest are expected later this month.

Wafaa Abukhousa, a former refugee from Syria, holds two-year-old Jawad Daas after he arrives in Winnipeg  with his family Dec. 19.

Wafaa Abukhousa, a former refugee from Syria, holds two-year-old Jawad Daas after he arrives in Winnipeg with his family Dec. 19.

In Dauphin, three church groups got together to sponsor three Syrian refugee families. When news broke that one of the churches received a threatening call about its plan to welcome the Syrian refugees, the sponsors were disappointed and a little unnerved -- until they learned the threat came from a man in Calgary, not a resident of Dauphin where they're preparing to put out the welcome mat for the Syrians expected next year.

For generations of Manitobans, the Syrian refugee crisis harkened back to earlier crises. Refugees from eastern Europe, the Balkans, Uganda, Chile and Vietnam who have successfully resettled in Manitoba spoke up, urging the government to open Canada's doors to the Syrian refugees. Groups such as the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Friends of Israel rallied to sponsor the Yazidi minority who took refuge in Turkey after being terrorized by the Islamic State.

It may have been the photo of the little boy in a red T-shirt and blue shorts that awakened the world to the Syrian refugee crisis. For many Manitobans, it was a reminder of what could have happened to them and a call to prevent the death of more innocents.

The war in Syria is now in its fifth year with no end in sight.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says there are nearly 4.4 million Syrian refugees -- half of whom are children. Most having exhausted all their savings are languishing in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, where 70 per cent live in extreme poverty, the UNHCR reported Dec. 23.

Syrian refugees are greeted at the airport in October.

Syrian refugees are greeted at the airport in October.

Canadians are still waiting for more to arrive.

During the federal election, the Liberals promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of the year. In November, the Liberals amended that promise, saying the government would bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, with the first 10,000 to have landed by year-end.

As of Dec. 21, 1,869 Syrians had arrived.

 

-- with files from The Canadian Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.