Canada welcomed 163 Syrian refugees under its new accelerated entry program overnight, the first of 25,000 the country has promised to take in by March.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a battery of politicians from across the political spectrum were on hand at the Toronto airport to greet the refugees.
“You are home,” Trudeau said to the first passengers to disembark after a 16-hour flight from Beirut on a Canadian military aircraft. “You’re safe at home now.”
The premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, gave them winter coats.
Under a plan announced by Trudeau’s new government, a series of flights will bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of this month and a total of at least 25,000 before March. While opposition parties, including the recently defeated Conservatives, have quibbled over timing and details, there has been no significant opposition to the overall aim of accepting the Syrians. And Trudeau was joined by his opposition critics in the welcoming party.
The plan also appears to enjoy widespread public support. All of the refugees on the first flight have been sponsored to come to Canada, either by individual Canadians or by small groups. Sponsors have had to raise just over 28,000 Canadian dollars for each family.
“Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,” Trudeau said.
Many of the passengers, particularly those with small children, appeared understandably weary after the flight, which was delayed for more than two hours by processing issues in Lebanon. But they thanked Trudeau and his welcoming committee.
“We suffered a lot,” said Kevork Jamkossian, who arrived with his wife, Georgina Zires, and their 16-month-old daughter, Madeleine. “Now, we feel as if we got out of hell and we came to paradise.”