Canada’s prime minister to welcome refugees at the airport

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Thursday night at Toronto’s Pearson International airport, where he will greet the first large group of Syrian refugees arriving by government aircraft.

Mr. Trudeau was joined by the ministers of immigration, health and defense, as well as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Mayor John Tory and opposition party members.

He thanked the staff and volunteers helping to process and welcome the 163 refugees ahead of the arrival of the military aircraft late Thursday.

The newly elected Liberal government is pushing forward with its pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, amid an intense debate in the West over what to do with people fleeing violence in the Middle East.

Canada’s welcoming stands in stark contrast to the U.S. All 10 of Canada’s provincial premiers support taking in the refugees and members of the opposition, including the Conservative party, attended the welcoming late Thursday.

The headline of the front page of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, read- “Welcome to Canada,” with the Arabic translation belo – ‘Ahlan wa sahlan, Welcome’.

In the United States, the Obama administration plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. But several Republican governors have tried to stop the arrival of Syrian refugees in their states, in the wake of the deadly attacks blamed on Islamic extremists in Paris and California. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump caused a worldwide uproar with a proposal to temporarily block Muslims from entering the U.S.

The first flight is due to arrive in Toronto before midnight and another will land in Montreal on Saturday. The planes, both military aircraft, will carry a total of 300 Syrian refugees.

About 800 refugees are being screened by security and health officers each day in Lebanon and Jordan.

Canada’s commitment reflects the change in government after October’s election. Former Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who lost the October 19 election to Trudeau, had declined to resettle more Syrian refugees, despite the haunting image of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach.

Canada has long prided itself on opening its doors to asylum seekers. In times of crisis in decades past, Canada resettled refugees quickly and in large numbers. It airlifted more than 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, more than 5,000 from Uganda in 1972 and resettled 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. More than 1.2 million refugees had arrived in Canada since World War II.

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