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'Now it’s our turn to help them back:' Syrian refugees help victims of Canadian wildfires

The wildfire in Canada has destroyed the homes of thousands of people in Fort McMurray. Many have been evacuated to Calgary, where Syrian refugees are now stepping up to support the victims of the wildfire.

Officials say a wildfire burning in the western Canadian province of Alberta remains out of control. A wildfire manager says the blaze is expected to take months to extinguish. The wildfire, which has forced the evacuation of the city of Fort McMurray, has left about 1,500 evacuees staying in schools in the city of Calgary.

Calgary is also the new home of a large number of Syrian refugees. These are now "returning the favor" and are helping those that offered them a safe place when they were fleeing from the war in their home country.

Many Syrian refugees say they can relate to what the Canadians are going through: "We lost everything in a second […]. When I follow the news I see how they are suffering, I see the same feeling. I feel with them. It touched me in my heart," Rita Khanchet, a Syrian refugee, explained her engagement in an interview with the local newspaper Calgary Herald.

The refugees helping the evacuees in Calgary organized themselves via Facebook. A volunteer of the Syrian Refugee Support Group Calgary, a group originally founded to help refugees in their new hometown Calgary, posted an Arabic translation of an article about the events in Fort McMurray. After learning of the extreme impact the wildfire had, Naser Nader and Rita Khanchet Kallas, two Syrian refugees living in Calgary stepped up and put up a post, calling on the Syrian refugee community to take the little they have to help those that have lost everything to the flames. The post was originally posted on a Facebook page managed by the Syrians themselves where they post in Arabic but was soon translated to English and shared to the official Facebook group of the organization.

The two Syrians see it as their duty to help the evacuees because the Canadians helped them get a new life in Calgary when they first came.

After Nader’s and Khanchet’s appeal, the refugees started using their Facebook group to organize donations and help for the evacuees. Saima Jamal and Sam Nammoura, the founders of the refugee support group are helping the Syrian volunteers with collecting donations and shopping for basic necessity products.

Saima Jamal said that she is overwhelmed with the response the story is getting: "This is the most amazing story that has come out of all the refugee work […] in the last six, seven months. It’s so positive that even the people who used to hate refugees here […], even they changed their minds." While she is amazed by the generosity of the people that have so little themselves, she also emphasized that, "they are just being themselves. […] That’s what these people are: very generous, very compassionate. It’s just that they have fallen into really, really bad times now in history."

Many users are applauding the Syrian refugees for their efforts on social media.

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