Skip to navigationSkip to content

A video of two siblings frolicking in the snow is melting the hearts of anyone who stumbles upon it online.

In it, a young brother and sister rush into a small backyard in Toronto, thrilled to experience snow for the first time. The little girl spins with her arms outstretched. The boy bounces in place, wearing a coat that’s at least two sizes too big. He briefly makes futile attempts to swat away the large snowflakes before they can melt into his hair.

The cinematic moment would be enough to spark joy on its own, but the video’s backstory makes it all the richer. This brother and sister are from Eritrea, and they arrived in Toronto last Thursday (Nov. 8), after living in a Sudanese refugee camp for the past five years. Now they are building a new life in Canada, with their two younger siblings and mother, according to Rebecca Davies, a volunteer and spokesperson for a community-based refugee resettlement association in Toronto. Davies posted the video to Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube.

Davies explained to her Twitter followers that she sponsored the family through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, which allows private citizens (or groups of them) to put up their own funds to bring UN-vetted refugees into the country. Sponsors pledge to support the refugees for 12 months, not only financially; they also ensure that children attend school and see doctors and dentists, and that adults are linked to potential employers or training programs. They donate resources, including housing, furniture, clothing, and toys. In 2018, Canada planned to welcome 18,000 refugees via this path, in addition to 7,500 others sponsored by the government directly.

Canada’s welcoming stance toward refugees has its detractors, and at least one turned up in Davies’ Twitter feed, complaining about government spending, while praising the cute backyard in the video. (Torontonians live for their small, urban backyards.) Davies patiently explained how the sponsorship worked:

Her video of the two children celebrating the snow’s arrival on Saturday has been so popular that it even reached prime minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal government introduced the private-citizen sponsorship program following a federal election win in 2015.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2016, there were 459,000 Eritreans living in exile, while 5 million people lived in the reclusive country. (A 2017 estimate put the population at 5.9 million)

Many exiles fled during Eritrea’s war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000, which left the nation in a constant state of war-readiness, but thousands have defected every year since then. At age 18, Eritreans are conscripted into public service, most often the military, for a term that can last more than a decade. Conscripts to the military are subject to arbitrary punishment, 72-hour work weeks, inadequate food rations, and, for women, rape by higher-ranking officers, according to Human Rights Watch. Though Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to fully enact an 18-year-old peace agreement this summer, many former citizens of the smaller nation still have reason not to return to their homeland, a dictatorship criticized for severe human rights abuses and often referred to as the “North Korea of Africa.”

0