The newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was on hand to greet the first planeload of 163 Syrian refugees who landed late Thursday night at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
The plane departed from Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport, stopping to refuel in Germany. A second chartered flight is scheduled to arrive in Montreal on Saturday. More than 400 refugees have already arrived on commercial flights since the Liberals took office last month.
“Welcome to your new home:” Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving in Canada https://t.co/rEXTUddFlC
— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) December 11, 2015
All of the Syrians are sponsored by private groups, who were required to file paperwork months ago. Future chartered flights carrying Syrian refugees are expected to depart from Jordanian facilities where 500 Canadian officials will screen refugees before departure at facilities in Beirut and Amman. They are processing about 800 applications a day in a process that includes interviews, and security and health checks. A third screening center was opened this week in Turkey.
Families are being processed but unaccompanied men are excluded from the resettlement program. Officials denied this was due to national security concerns. Those considered to be at-risk refugees include families, women deemed to be at risk, and gay men and women.
The government’s most recent figures show that 1,537 permanent resident visas have so far been issued and almost 12,538 refugee applications are currently being processed.
When he was elected last month, Trudeau promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, objected to receiving more Syrian refugees and the refugee crisis became a major campaign issue, undoubtedly being a major factors leading to Harper’s defeat. A photo of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach had a powerful impact in Canada, where the boy had relatives, bringing the issue close to home for many Canadians.
“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 said. “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.”
The Canadian response is in sharp contrast to the reluctance of its southern neighbor, the United States, which has agreed to take in 10,000 refugees over the next year. Republican lawmakers have tried to block even this amount, citing security concerns and the multitude of terror attacks in the US and Europe perpetrated by radical Islamic groups. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was widely criticized when he said that all Muslims should be blocked from coming to the US. His comments, made after the horrific attack in San Bernadino, also drew a surprising powerful support from many voters, seeming to indicate that he is not alone in his concerns.