Thanks to an elaborate rescue plan carried out by the international community in July, hundreds of heroic Syrians were successfully evacuated and many have now officially made it to Canada.
The volunteers, known as White Helmets, spent months in a refugee camp in Jordan — but last week, many arrived in Toronto. Their new homes will be in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, according to CBC.
Knowing that White Helmets were in grave danger, one of its leaders reached out to Robin Wettlaufer, Ottawa's special envoy to Syria, in early July, according to CBC.
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An extravagant rescue plan was then laid out by Britain, Germany, and Canada, and supported by Israel, Jordan, the United States and the United Nations to evacuate the White Helmets and their families.
White Helmets are volunteers who work in rebel-held areas of Syria. They respond to attacks by digging people out of rubble, providing first aid and working to shed light on the brutal assaults carried out on innocent people in Syria. They were founded in 2012 and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
The Syrian government and Russia, its ally, have called the White Helmets terrorists. Russia has gone as far as to say that the group has faked attacks and staged rescue missions so as to criticize the dictatorship.
More than 250 of these heroes have been killed and 500 have been injured, with so many more likely targeted by the Syrian army.
“The reason we left was to escape arrest,” Maysoon al-Masri, who arrived in Canada last week, told CBC in a translated interview. “We are not scared of dying. We're scared of being tortured and what would happen to our families. Our situation was very dangerous.”
The exact moment #WhiteHelmets teams were targeted with cluster bombs & artillery shells while they were rescuing the wounded & extinguishing the fire following Russian raids on the outskirts of #Khan_Sheikhoun city. Two White Helmets in the video were badly injured. 7/9/2018 pic.twitter.com/NdDEnbwhHt— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) September 9, 2018
Al-Masri is a former journalist from Syria who escaped with her husband via the Israel-Syria border with help from the Israeli military.
In total, the rescue mission managed to evacuate 422 people — White Helmets and their families — and Canada is now home for 117 of them.
But there are still White Helmets trapped in Syria, some of whom have contacted al-Masri for help.
The international community had hoped to remove up to 1,200 evacuees during its rescue mission, according to CBC.
“I was really upset. I didn't want to leave home,” al-Masri told CBC. “It was like ripping roots from the ground.”
But she knew she was not safe and her family and friends wouldn’t be either, and she now thinks that the international community must try again to reach those left behind.