Refugees Welcome Here: Bringing ‘Family No. 417’ to Canada

Photo by walterw.a (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Maclean’s, Michael Friscolanti reports on the 14 everyday Canadians who — galvanized by the sickening image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi face-down on the beach — banded together to sponsor a family of Syrian refugees whose names they did not know, in a bid to “do what’s right. To do something.” In a story reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, Friscolanti travelled to war-torn Beirut to find and interview Amal Alkhalaf, the single-mother and her three children, dubbed “family no. 417.”

“I have not been outside since the explosion,” the woman says, speaking Arabic. “If you didn’t call me to meet you, I wouldn’t have come outside. It is too scary.”

Her name is Amal Alkhalaf, and although she doesn’t realize it yet, that name alone means so much to so many. On the other side of the world—in Peterborough, Ont., a city that could not be further away from the armed checkpoints that surround Bourj el-Barajneh—a group of strangers has made it their mission to sponsor her family and bring them to Canada, despite never seeing her face or hearing her voice. All they know is her name, and that she and her three kids, living somewhere in Lebanon, are among the many millions of Syrian refugees who fled for their lives.

A single, sickening image—a three-year-old boy dead on a beach, when British Columbia could have been home—became a nationwide rallying cry. Hundreds of private sponsorship groups mobilized in a matter of days, each one determined to rescue the next Alan Kurdi.

Near the end of the call, Amal asks a question: “Who is doing this for me?”

A collection of families, Serout replies, explaining how the sponsorship group will cover her family’s first year of expenses in Canada. “They don’t care if you are a Muslim or not a Muslim,” he says.

“At last, we are humanity,” Amal answers. “There is no black or white.”

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