‘Welcome to Canada:’ An update on Family No. 417

The Syrian family found itself on the cover of Maclean's—and then met the Prime Minister

Last week, Maclean’s introduced readers to a desperate family of Syrian refugees—and to the group of strangers who made it their mission to bring that family to Canada. The story (“Saving Family #417”) ended where all involved prayed it would: with Amal Alkhalaf and her three children walking through the front door of their new apartment in Peterborough, Ont.

“It’s like a dream,” Alkhalaf said that night.

The dream continues. Since the issue hit newsstands—featuring the family of four on the cover—Alkhalaf and the kids have been adjusting extremely well to life in their new country. Sixteen months ago, they fled ISIS-controlled territory in northern Syria. Today, they know what a toboggan is. “They are really enjoying the way Canada has been treating them,” says David McNab, a member of the private sponsorship group that helped relocate the family.

The children (Ansam, 13; Ibrahim, 10; and Dalya, 9) are now registered at St. Paul’s school, where three members of their sponsorship group are teachers. (“They’re like rock stars,” jokes Lise Fines, one of the teachers.) Alkhalaf, 41, is also enrolled in school—for the first time in her life—attending English classes at Fleming College. She has a bus pass, and already knows the route by heart.

Oh, they also met the Prime Minister.

(Adam Scotti/Prime Minister's Office)

(Adam Scotti/Prime Minister’s Office)

Justin Trudeau was in Peterborough on Jan. 17 to visit the city’s only mosque, which recently reopened after an arson attack last November. On his way inside the restored building, the PM took time to greet some of the Syrian refugees who have arrived in the community, including Alkhalaf and her children. The family made sure to bring along a special present: a copy of Maclean’s.

“I wanted to give him the magazine as a gift, to show my respect,” Alkhalaf said. “I want to thank him for what he has done for me and my children, and for all Syrian refugees.” She even signed the cover: “Amal to Jostein.” The other children also scribbled their names. “Thank you,” one wrote.

When Trudeau reached them in the crowd, Alkhalaf shook his hand and passed him the issue. “It was great,” said Serout Omar, a restaurant owner who has volunteered to translate for the family since they arrived on Dec. 30. “He looked at the magazine and then looked at her and said: ‘Oh, that’s you.’ ”

Trudeau later tweeted two photos: one of Alkhalaf handing him the copy; one of the cover. “ ‘Family 417’ is safe in Peterborough – and had a special gift for me today,” he wrote. “Welcome to Canada, Amal Alkhalaf.”

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