Mohammad Alhajali, thousands of kilometres away from his former home, sits in a classroom listening to a language he's just barely beginning to learn,
His teacher asks him what he wants to learn in school.
Alhajali, a Syrian refugee, looks at a screen that translates back her English words in his native Arabic. He gets it. The connection's made.
"Writing," he says, cracking a smile.
The Alhajali kids with their teacher, Amy Gordon. (Google/YouTube)
It's a beautiful moment captured in a Google video, titled "From Syria To Canada" and uploaded to YouTube Wednesday. It follows father Emad Alhajali and his family, who moved to Orangeville, Ont. from Jordan.
"I came from Syria, from the Daraa province," Emad says in the video, in Arabic. "I left with my wife and kids, because the situation was dangerous."
The clip shows Mohammad and his sister Fatma attending their new school, and communicating with their teacher Amy Gordon using Google's translation services.
Brian Logel, chair of the Headwaters Refugee Group, is pictured with his wife Philomena at the Westminster United Church, in Orangeville, Ont. on Dec. 1, 2015. (Photo: Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
"After the village that they lived close to was bombed, Emad and [his wife] Razan packed all their things in a taxi, and they fled. When they arrived, they spoke no English," says the family's Canadian sponsor, Brian Logel.
"The children, they've had some very painful experiences. They want to overcome that initial fear, that they won't know how to communicate, because they want to fit in," says Logel's wife, Philomena.
The children's father says though they don't understand everything spoken to them, they're happy, and their teacher says they're making progress.
Mohammad and Fatma Alhajali at school. (Google/YouTube)
The Logels' story was featured in a Canadian Press article last December, as the freshly-elected Liberal government was racing to meet its original intake target of 10,000 refugees by the end of the year. The couple opened up their farmhouse — during the holiday season — to the Alhajalis, since they still had no place to stay by the time their permits to come to Canada were issued.
Four months later, the Alhajalis are part of more than 25,000 Syrian refugees who have come to Canada through a mix of government assistance and private sponsors like the Logels.
The federal government has pledged to bring in 25,000 refugees itself by the end of the year.
With files from The Canadian Press
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In 2011, internal conflict erupted in Syria that would later escalate into a full-blown civil war that rages on to this day, now complicated by the arrival of Islamic militants from neighbouring Iraq. Since the start, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on countries to help resettle some of the most vulnerable Syrians who can never return home, a call that grew louder as the crisis has escalated. Here's a look at how Canada responded over time. (Information by The Canadian Press) Syrians hold a large poster depicting Syria's President Bashar Assad during a rally in Damascus, Syria in 2011.
- Canada closes its embassy in Damascus, a move that would come to have major repercussions for refugee resettlement out of the Middle East as that visa post was handling the majority of the files for refugees from other countries who had sought temporary safety in Syria. Those files were then transferred to nearby countries, leaving visa officers scrambling to handle them and the start of a surge in Syrian refugee applications. - By the end of 2012, the UNHCR had registered close to half a million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. - Syrian Canadians call on Canada to do more to support the refugees, including speeding up family reunification programs and opening the doors to more refugees, but the government said without an official request from the UN for resettlement, it would not act. Syrian refugee girls wash their clothes at a camp in Idlib, Syria, in October of 2015.
The number of people registered as refugees from Syria or being assisted by the UN hits one million. A Syrian refugee boy at a camp in Turkey in October 2015.
The UN makes its first formal request to member countries to assist in refugee resettlement, asking for 30,000 spaces by the end of 2014. Syrian Kurdish refugees walk in the United Nations Refugee Agency refugee camp in Suruc, Sanliurfa province, in January 2015.
The Harper Conservatives promise to admit 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, with the majority sponsored by private groups. The 200 spots available to government-assisted refugees are not new refugee spaces — the Conservatives choose to allocate the 200 they set aside each year for the Syrian program. Stephen Harper speaks in the House of Commons.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits a refugee camp in Jordan, one of the main host countries for Syrians. He announces $150 million in humanitarian aid; over the course of the conflict Canada has been one of the lead financial donors for relief efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. By this point, some $630 million has been committed. Stephen Harper and wife Laureen Harper visit Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan in January 2014.
The UN High Commissioner makes a new request: an additional 100,000 places for Syrian refugees by 2016. Canada says it is reviewing its options. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland in October 2015.
Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander admits that fewer than 200 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the July 2013 promise, saying the UNHCR was slow passing on referrals. Chris Alexander speaks in the House of Commons.
By the end of the month, just over 1,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, meaning the government missed its deadline. A Syrian Kurdish refugee walks in a UNHCR refugee camp in Suruc in January 2015.
The Conservative government commits to allowing 10,000 more Syrian refugees in by 2018, most through the private sponsorship program. The focus is to be on religious minorities. Syrian refugee girls sit at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 'Child Friendly Spaces' in the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian border with Syria in 2014.
The government finally meets its July 2013 promise to resettle 1,300 people, achieving it by increasing the number of government-assisted refugees. Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up during a photo opportunity.
The Conservatives order an audit of the government-assisted refugees coming out of Syria, citing security concerns. The review identifies no problems but delays the processing of those files for several weeks. Chris Alexander speaks at a press conference in Toronto in September, 2015.
The Conservatives pledge that if re-elected, they will allow a further 10,000 Syrians in over the next four years, continuing a focus on those being persecuted because of religion. Stephen Harper takes questions from the media on the campaign trail.
- Three-year-old Alan Kurdi dies during his family's escape from Syria. The photograph of his body on a Turkish beach and word his family had considered Canada as an eventual destination sees Canada's refugee response become a dominant issue in the election campaign. - The Conservatives increase available resources for the processing of refugee applications, promise to speed up resettlement of the 10,000 originally promised places and announce they'll match donations for Syrian relief. - The Liberals say they'll bring over 25,000 government-assisted refugees as soon as possible and encourage the private sector to take in more. They later promise to bring them in by the end of the year. A handout photo courtesy of Tima Kurdi shows a photo of her three-year-old nephew Alan Kurdi.
The Liberals win a majority government and say they remain committed to refugee resettlement. Justin Trudeau waves to the crowd as they arrive to Liberal election headquarters in Montreal.
The Liberal government announces its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians. Immigration Minister John McCallum holds a news conference with Health Minister Jane Philpott and Defence Minister Harijit Singh Sajjan.