Syrian refugees encouraged by Sydney candlelight vigil

'This has become our second home and we’re happy to finally be safe at home'

Published on January 31, 2017

More than 350 people attended a candlelight vigil in front of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre on Tuesday. The event was held to mourn six people killed in a shooting attack at a Quebec City mosque, as well as to send a message of peace and solidarity to the local Muslim community.

©Cape Breton Post Photo

SYDNEY, N.S. — It’s been just under a year since Rame Alasfar and his young family moved to Cape Breton, and if the Syrian refugees needed further proof they’re welcome here, they got it Tuesday night.

Alasfar, his wife and their three children were among the more than 350 people who crowded the public square in front of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre for a candlelight vigil to mourn the six men who were gunned down during evening prayers at a Quebec City mosque on Sunday.

After fleeing Daraa, Syria, and moving to Sydney Mines in March, Alasfar said the display of peace and solidarity at Tuesday’s vigil was reassuring to him and his wife Afaf Alakrad and their children Huda, 9, Ghena, 7, and Mohammed Alasfar, 4 — especially after Sunday’s shootings.

“We’re happy to see this united community and we’re confident that nothing like this is going to happen here,” he said. “This has become our second home and we’re happy to finally be safe at home.”

Molly Ayer encouraged Alasfar and his family to attend the vigil.

“We just want to show them that we stand with them. I know they were sad and scared, and being in a new country they didn’t know what this was going to mean for them,” said Ayer, who attended with her sons Brighton, 7, and Cameron, 3. “We just wanted them to come and see how many people here were standing with them.”

Brighton, who is friends with the Alasfar children, said the message was simple.

“We want them to feel safe, that’s all,” he said.

Umran ul-Haq Bhatti, Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Sydney chapter, said Muslims in Cape Breton were “very sad and our hearts were shattered” after Sunday’s attack. However, he said the outpouring of support has been touching.

“It just shows us that we should stand united against extremism and violence in all forms.”

John Duffy of Sydney, who came carrying a sign stating “We have to learn to coexist: There is only one race … human,” said he wants all minorities to feel welcome in Cape Breton.

“I just want to make a point that what happened had nothing to do with true Canadians, and that we support all minorities,” he said. “These people come over here wanting a better life and that’s not too much to ask — I don’t think it is — so we’re here to support them.”

Dr. Arsalan Raza, president of the Cape Breton Muslim Society, was one of several speakers at the vigil, which included representatives from different faiths and politicians. He said the Quebec City attack should be a “wakeup call for all of Canadians.”

“I’m so happy to see people all over Canada so lovingly coming close to the Muslim community — it brings the heart to tears and I hope we can continue this,” he said. “Our prayers are with all victims of terrorism, no matter what religion they believe in.”

Melissa Deane and her husband David Deane came to the vigil from North Sydney with their children Addy, 3, and Lydia, 1, to show their support for Muslims.

“We should be here,” she said. “There’s not much we could do but take part and show that we’re one community.”

Alasfar said his family is beginning to understand what it feels like to be Cape Bretoners.

“We’re happy to be here,” he said, adding that they are grateful to their sponsors and the community. “It’s made me feel like I have a second family.”