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‘Welcome Home’: Prime Minister Trudeau Greets First Syrian Refugees in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees to Canada at Pearson Airport in Toronto, December 10, 2015. (Photo: Canadian Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes Syrian refugees to Canada at Pearson Airport in Toronto, December 10, 2015. (Photo: Canadian Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted the first 160 of some 25,000 Syrian refugees who will settle in Canada as they arrived by military transport plane in Toronto late Thursday night.

CBC reports the new arrivals reached Canada after a 13-hour journey from Beirut, Lebanon.

“You are home. Welcome home,” said Trudeau in response to an Aleppo family who thanked him and Canada for the hospitality they received.

“We suffered a lot,” said father Kevork Jamkossian, a physician. “Now, we feel as if we got out of hell and we came to paradise.”

“You’re safe at home now,” Trudeau assured Jamkossian, his wife Georgina Zires and their 16-month-old daughter Madeleine.

The Canadian government has pledged to admit some 25,000 refugees from war-torn Syria by the end of February.

“They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians,” Trudeau said.

The federal government is also providing the new arrivals with welcome packages that include parkas, jackets, children’s snowsuits and other cold weather gear for the frigid Canadian winter, as well as a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in both English and French.

On Friday, the House of Commons in Ottawa unanimously adopted a motion by the center-left New Democratic Party (NDP) to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada.

“This House, on behalf of all Canadians, warmly welcome our new Syrian and Iraqi neighbors, and indeed all refugees who have escaped conflict around the world and arrived safely in Canada, a country with an unwavering commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law,” the motion stated, adding that “all Members of Parliament welcome them with open arms.”

Canada’s official welcome (although a majority of Canadians oppose refugee resettlement) stands in stark contrast to its southern neighbor, where American political leaders—mostly Republicans—have voiced strong opposition to accepting Syrian, Iraqi and other people fleeing war and instability. Although the US has about nine times the population of Canada, it is admitting less than half as many Syrians.

Fears of terrorist infiltration, as well as rising Islamophobia, have been exploited by American politicians, including almost all of the Republican presidential candidates, who are seeking to prevent refugees from Muslim nations from resettling in the US. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump sparked global outrage earlier this week after he called for a total ban on Muslim immigration to America.

“Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said. “If I win the election for President, we are going to make America great again.”

In separate surveys conducted on November 18—after the Paris terror attacks but before the San Bernardino massacre, a similar percentage of Canadians and Americans said they opposed resettling Syrian refugees in their respective countries. Fifty-four percent of Canadians and 53 percent of Americans said they did not want to welcome war refugees from Syria in their nations.

However, many Canadians enthusiastically welcomed the newest members of their national family.

“So proud to be Canadian! First refugees have arrived,” tweeted Julie-Anne Mauno of Ramore, Ontario. “I live in a country that is choosing compassion over fear. Amazing! #WelcomeToCanada.”

“Justin Trudeau makes me so proud to be a Canadian,” Vancouver resident Chas McManus commented online. “He represents all of the best values of our country. My only wish is our American cousins in Congress would put on their big boy pants and not be so fearful and filled with hysteria.”

The weary men, women and children arriving in Canada on Thursday expressed great joy and gratitude to their hosts, as well as relief at having left their war-ravaged homeland.

“The situation is so bad,” new arrival Carolina Sefilian said of the home she left behind. “I have two friends, I lost them. Two times I escaped from the bombs. So I thought that my life is worth everything else, so I decided to come,” she told CBC.

Canada has long prided itself on its open door policy toward people seeking asylum from around the world. More than 1.2 million refugees have made Canada their new home since the end of World War II, but its history of welcoming those in need goes back at least as far as the mid-19th century, when more than 30,000 runaway black slaves from the American South found refuge north of the border at the terminus of the Underground Railroad.

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