Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomes first planeload of Syrian refugees

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helps Syrian refugees find winter coats after landing in Canada
(Image credit: Instagram/ferlandstagram)

Just before midnight on Thursday, a Canadian military plane landed at Toronto's Pearson airport with 163 Syrian refugees, the first government airlift designed to help meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of the year, and 15,000 more by the end of February. Trudeau was on hand to greet the first planeload, along with several federal ministers, the premier of Ontario, and the mayor of Toronto, among other dignitaries.

Meanwhile in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helping a new refugee from Syria. 158 of them were welcomed like rock star at Toronto International Airport on Thursday night. #welcomerefugees #refugeeswelcome #welcometocanada #refugees #Canada #SyriaA photo posted by Pierre (@ferlandstagram) on Dec 10, 2015 at 11:24pm PST

"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 the gathered airport worker and volunteers before the refugees deplaned. "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."

While this was the first government plane to arrive with the refugees — a second is scheduled to arrive on Saturday — more than 400 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada on commercial flights since Trudeau and his Liberal government were sworn in on Nov. 4, reversing the no-refugee policy of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. All 10 provincial premiers support Trudeau's refugee policy, and members of the Conservative party were in Thursday's welcome party, too.

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Pearson airport had asked Canadians to keep their distance so as not to overwhelm the arriving refugees, but there was a crowd at the airport anyway. "Canada has been so welcoming, the U.S. doesn't seem like that," recent Syrian refugee Greg Keoushkerian, 26, told The Associated Press. "People here respect each other here." Shai Reef, 20, was holding a sign that read "Welcome to Canada in Arabic. "I'm here to show my solidarity for and support of the Syrian people going through genocide in Syria," he told the CBC. "As Jews, we were also locked out, I know what it feels like."

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