Halifax calls 'community gathering' to mourn Syrian children killed in fire
Members of the Barho family are shown upon arrival in Canada on Sept. 29 2017, at the Halifax airport in a handout photo. Seven children, all members of a Syrian refugee family, died early Tuesday in a fast-moving house fire described as Nova Scotia's deadliest blaze in recent memory. In a brief interview from the hospital, Imam Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre said the Syrians - whose family name is Barho - had fled that country's civil war.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Enfield Weekly Press-Pat Healey
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2019 6:58AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2019 12:02PM EST
Halifax city hall has called a “community gathering” in the city's main square tonight in support of the Syrian refugee family that lost seven children in a fast-moving house fire.
The city says community members and elected officials will speak at Grand Parade in front of city hall, and a book of condolences will be available.
The Barho family came to Nova Scotia in 2017 as sponsored refugees; the seven children, aged from a few months to the mid-teens, died early Tuesday.
Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre in Halifax said Wednesday the father, Ebraheim Barho, remains in critical condition in hospital.
As for his wife Kawthar Barho, Yousri said she remains so distraught that she says little, aside from repeating the name of her youngest child, four-month-old Abdullah.
Yousri said plans for a burial service remain on hold because the children's bodies have yet to be released by the medical examiner.
In a news release Wednesday, the city called the Grand Parade gathering “an opportunity to come together in the spirit of sympathy and compassion.”
On Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered outside the charred remnants of the Quartz Drive house to mourn the children and to show support for their parents.
They carried flowers and wept openly in the frigid darkness, looking for solace in the company of neighbours and listening to a Christian pastor attempt to gather community strength for the Muslim refugees from Syria beginning to make a new life in Canada.
Josh Crawford sang “Amazing Grace” and said they all needed to draw upon their faith to recover from the tragedy.
“The next couple of days are going to be hard, but it's going to be the weeks and the months to come that this family is going to need you the most,” said Crawford, whose mother works at the school attended by the two oldest children.
The fire struck not long after midnight on Tuesday morning. Neighbours said they were awoken by a woman's screams and looked out to see flames that quickly engulfed the entire upper floor.
The family had only lived in the Spryfield for a few months, having moved into Halifax from Elmsdale, N.S., to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services.
They had fled war-torn Syria and, with the help of a private sponsorship group, came to Canada in September 2017. A spokesperson for the group said the family had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.
Natalie Horne, vice-president of the Hants East Assisting Refugees Team, said the children who died are: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada in November.
Meanwhile, a fundraising campaign launched to help the parents was quickly gathering support.
The GoFundMe page entitled “Halifax House Fire Tragedy” had collected more than $279,000 of its stated $300,000 goal from more than 5,800 donors as of 12 p.m. local time Wednesday.
The effort is organized by family friends and the Imam Council of Halifax.
The call to gather for Tuesday's Quartz Drive vigil went out on a community Facebook page and more than 100 people responded.
They added more flowers, candles and teddy bears to a memorial propped up against a light standard in front of the house.
“What brought me here was those children that lost their lives,” said Fran Kirby, who brought flowers. “It's a shame for those children, and those parents. I don't even understand how anybody could tell a parent (their children had died).”
Her friend Heather Bennett was in tears as she talked about her own three-year-old boy.
“It hit home,” she said.
Iain McLaren and Kristen MacDiarmid said they moved into the neighbourhood two years ago and wanted to show their support to the community that had welcomed them.
“When you hear about these things in the media, you think these happen so far away, but today it happened so close and to have it happen to a family that's from Syria, it's just a devastating blow to the neighbourhood,” McLaren said.
Crawford said the emotional gathering was an important gesture for the people who came and for the grieving parents who couldn't.
“It speaks volumes to the family - a father who can't be here right now and the mother who is by her husband's side,” he said. “It just shows that we as a community are standing together and here for this family.”