VIDEO: Trudeau welcomes first Syrian refugees to Canada
The first flight of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada just before midnight on Thursday, as part of new Canadian premier Justin Trudeau’s plan to resettle 25,000 refugees by February.
Trudeau was at Toronto airport alongside Ottowa premier Kathleen Wynne to personally greet the first arrivals, a military flight carrying 163 Syrian refugees.
While headlines in the US have been dominated by calls from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban all Muslims from entering the country in the wake of the deadly attack by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino, in Canada the government has pledged to go ahead with its refugee resettlement plan.
“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 volunteers and airport staff waiting to receive the refugees.
Trudeau helped distribute clothing, including winter hats, scarves and gloves, to the new arrivals in front of the press at the airport welcoming ceremony.
The new Liberal government’s refugee policy has faced scrutiny in the wake of the 13 November attack in Paris that killed 130 people, which sparked fears in the US and Canada that Islamic State militants would enter the country among new intakes of refugees.
Trudeau originally planned to bring in all 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of December, but the plans were put back in the wake of the Paris attack as officials put in place enhanced screening procedures for refugees.
However, the government still plans to have the first 10,000 refugees brought to Canada by the end of December.
As Middle East Eye reported last week, Canadian officials opened a registration centre in Amman at the end of November in hopes of speeding up the refugees’ arrival.
The centre, operated jointly by the Canadian government, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Danish Refugee Council and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), began registering Syrian refugees slated for resettlement in Canada on 29 November.
Refugees are being bussed to the Amman centre, which is housed on a former Jordanian military hangar, from other parts of the country, an IOM press release said.
Refugees currently in Lebanon are being transferred to Jordan before taking flights to Canada, an IOM spokesman said.
Syrian refugees currently in Turkey will be able to fly to Canada directly without transitioning in another country, he said, adding that 100 people were processed the first day the centre was operational.
In the US, President Obama has pledged to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.