First planeload of Syrian refugees arrives in Canada

Fri Dec 11, 2015 9:08am EST
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - After months of promises and weeks of preparation, the first Canadian government planeload of Syrian refugees landed in Toronto on Thursday, aboard a military aircraft met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau was elected to a surprise majority in October promising to accept more refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government.

"This is a wonderful night, where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations," Trudeau told airport workers and volunteers standing by to meet the refugees.

Trudeau's Liberal government scaled back the number of Syrian migrants it will accept by year end after the attacks in Paris sparked concern that the election promise to bring in 25,000 by Dec. 31 would not allow enough time for security checks.

The plane carrying 163 Syrian refugees touched down in Toronto just before midnight on Thursday and will be followed by a second military airlift to Montreal on Saturday. Trudeau has said 10,000 will be resettled by the end of the year and a further 15,000 by the end of February.

As Trudeau met the military aircraft amid tight security at a special terminal, privately sponsored Syrian refugees were arriving on commercial flights at Toronto's main terminal, greeted by sponsors and ordinary Canadians who had come to the airport to welcome the much-anticipated newcomers.

"They are very tired, but they are happy and hopeful," said Soriya Dasir, a worker with Abraham Festival, a group that sponsored a single mother and three children who had been living in a camp in Jordan for two years, as she escorted them past waiting media.

Toronto's airport authority urged Canadians not to come to the airport to greet the refugees or drop off donations, saying: "We're so proud that our community wants to help, but such a response would be very overwhelming for those arriving."   Continued...

Syrian refugees are greeted by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) on their arrival from Beirut at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch