HALIFAX — Thousands of mourners filled a cavernous hall on Saturday for an emotional embrace of grieving parents who lost seven children in a devastating house fire just 18 months after they arrived in Halifax as Syrian refugees.
Mourners offered love and support to Kawthar Barho, who lost her children in Tuesday’s fast-moving fire, and whose husband was in hospital being treated for severe burns.
Barho’s sobbing was the only sound in the waterfront Cunard Centre as seven white coffins, some of them quite small, were brought in one by one by a firefighters’ honour guard.
“I have attended many funerals but nothing like this, so please bear with me,” an overwhelmed Sheikh Hamza said as he offered the ceremony’s English sermon.
Imam Abdallah Yousri had hoped that opening the ceremony up to all who wished to attend would allow Barho to see the entire community had been united in sympathy.
More than 2,000 people came, with every seat filled and hundreds more people standing.
“We will not abandon you. We will not leave you alone,” Nova Scotia deputy premier Karen Casey told Barho. “Please accept our love. Please accept our warm embrace.”
Mourners, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, said they came because they had been deeply affected by the tragedy, and wanted to show their support for Barho as she faced unimaginable grief.
“She doesn’t know me, I don’t know her, but I know I’m here. And she’s our family — their whole family is our family. I want to be here for all of them,” Cindy Samson said in an interview.
Another mourner, Audrey Watson-Darrow, said she attended to let the family know they are loved and supported.
Adnan Aboushahla said it was a “shock for anyone — not only for Muslim people, but for Christians and other religions,” to witness such a tragedy.
“We want to do whatever we can — either give support, money, feelings, this grief,” said Aboushahla.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore told Barho the community would be there for her in the hard times to come. But he acknowledged it’s family that brings the greatest comfort, and said the federal government is trying to bring her overseas relatives to Canada quickly.
“We are working as hard as we can to get your family here as quickly as possible so they can be by your side,” Fillmore said.
Natalie Horne, vice-president of the community group that sponsored the Barhos’ refugee claim, said they were grateful to have had a chance to get to know the children.
“Our lives were enriched as a result of our relationship with you and your children,” Horne told Barho through tears. “We love them and we love you.”
Following the funeral service, there was to be a burial at a Muslim cemetery in Hammonds Plains.
The children’s father, Ebraheim Barho, remained in hospital Friday recovering from extensive burns. He was in critical, but stable condition.
Early Tuesday, the Quartz Drive house fire killed all of the Barho children: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2; and Abdullah, who was born in Canada on Nov. 9.
The cause of the blaze remains unclear.
Mourner Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who founded Peace by Chocolate in Nova Scotia, said it is hard for the parents to handle all the pain by themselves.
“I would say it’s the most devastating period that I have ever lived, even though we lost family members back home in Syria. The loss of seven kids at once really has had a very devastating impact on the entire community here,” he said.
Mourner Mouna Manna praised the outpouring of support, and said the mother’s burden is unimaginable.
“I don’t even know where to begin to imagine how this would be, to lose not one or two but seven of them all at once … it’s a huge huge devastation,” she said.
The scale of the tragedy for the young family who arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017 as refugees has struck a chord with Canadians.
A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $575,000 by Saturday afternoon, with a $1-million goal.
The Barho family lived in Elmsdale, a 30-minute drive north of Halifax, when they first arrived in Nova Scotia, and were embraced by residents there.
They moved to the Halifax suburb of Spryfield to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services, and had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.
The family was among 1,795 Syrian refugees who have come to Nova Scotia in recent years. The Trudeau government granted asylum to 40,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-16.
A brutal civil war has raged across Syria since 2011, claiming more than 400,000 lives.