7 Children in Syrian Refugee Family Die in Fire in Canada
Seven children from a family of Syrian refugees were killed early Tuesday in a fire that destroyed their home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the authorities and friends of the family said.
Pictures of the house posted online showed a gutted and blackened husk whose roof and second floor appeared to have been destroyed. Friends of the family said they had planned to move out of the home next week.
The police said the fire erupted shortly before 1 a.m. and caused life-threatening injuries to the children’s father and less severe injuries to their mother. Both were taken to a nearby hospital.
“They are from Raqqa, which is one of the worst affected areas in Syria,” said Abdallah Yousri, an imam at Ummah Masjid and Community Center, a mosque the family attended. “They fled from there to be burned over here. It is unbelievable.”
The authorities did not name the family, but their mosque posted a memorial to the children on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon. The youngest victim, Abdullah, was four months old and the oldest, Ahmed, was 15 years old, the mosque said. The others were Rana, 3; Hala, 4; Ghala, 8; Mohammed, 10; and Rola, 12.
Mr. Yousri said the parents, Ibrahim and Kawthar Barho, took their family to Canada in 2017. He said he was among many local Muslim leaders who rushed to the hospital to help on Tuesday.
Mr. Yousri said he spent most of the day consoling Ms. Barho and making difficult phone calls to their relatives, some in Raqqa, others scattered across refugee communities in Turkey and Lebanon. Losing seven children at once is not something that is supposed to happen once you have safely fled a war zone, he said.
“I called the family back home and they cannot believe it,” Mr. Yousri said. “Everyone is shocked. Seven kids at the same time, it is really hard.”
Wael Haridy, an imam at the Nova Scotia Islamic Center, also rushed to the hospital, where he served as an ad hoc translator for Ms. Barho. He said she speaks little English and had to consent to an emergency operation for her husband.
“He tried to save his kids,” Mr. Haridy said. “He ran back into the house when it was on fire, and that is why he had major burns all around his body.”
Ms. Barho was in “extreme shock” and, from her hospital bed, asked frequently for her parents in Raqqa, the former Islamic State capital in Syria, Mr. Haridy said.
“She kept saying: ‘I don’t have any of my kids? Not even one or two? All seven are dead?’” Mr. Haridy said. But he said she was largely uninjured by the fire.
“They fled for their lives to come to Canada and now this has happened and her husband is in critical condition and she may be left alone.”
“She just has some scratches on her face,” Mr. Haridy said. “She is not majorly injured. But the big injury is in her heart.”
Dave Meldrum, the deputy chief of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, said at a news conference that the seven deaths were the largest fire-related loss of life in the city in recent memory. He said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
The group that sponsored the Barho family, the Heart Society, posted an anguished message on Facebook saying that the family had planned to move out of their house next week and return to East Hants, the district that is home to their sponsors and where they first lived when they moved to Canada.
The lease on their house in Halifax ends on March 1 and they had a new house lined up in Elmsdale, roughly 30 miles away, Natalie Horne, a spokeswoman for the group, said.
“Many people, far too many to name, helped bring the Barho family to East Hants and get settled,” the group said in a statement. For the year and a half they were in Canada, the group said, the youngest Barhos had been able to live the carefree life of children. “They loved every minute of it, and it seems impossible we won’t hear their laughter and feel their hugs again.”