For newly arrived Syrian refugee Samer Barkel, hearing his kids laugh and play after their arrival in Canada made the 13-hour journey from Beirut, Lebanon, worthwhile.
Barkel and his family were among the 163 Syrians who arrived in Toronto Thursday night in the first government aircraft carrying refugees. The Canadian government has pledged to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of February.
"For my kids, it's enough to see them smiling and laughing," Barkel told CBC News on his first day in Canada as his five-year-old boy and six-year-old girl giggled and struck poses for the cameras.
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His family is only halfway to their ultimate destination in Calgary, but a world away from the perils of their former home, which millions of people have been forced to flee amid civil war.
The Barkel family from Syria heading to Calgary. Dad Samer says he's grateful for the smiles on his kids faces. pic.twitter.com/Ft1BVPKo9r— @LindaWardCBC
Waiting to greet refugees at Pearson International Airport airport on Thursday night were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
After landing in Toronto, the new arrivals were given warm coats, social insurance numbers and health cards after a security and health screening at a special airport terminal renovated for their arrival. After processing, they were bused to an airport hotel to rest.
"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 said it is also giving out welcome packages to refugees as they arrive at welcome centres in Toronto and Montreal. Each one includes:
- Parkas and jackets for youths and adults.
- Two-piece snow suits for kids.
- One-piece snow suits for infants.
- Tuques, mitts/gloves, socks and snow boots for all.
- A bag with a maple leaf design.
- A Parks Canada tuque.
- Children's books.
- A copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in both English and French.
- A National Film Board DVD of silent short films for all ages.
Georgina Zires and Kevork Jamkossian looked both happy and haggard while toting their 16-month-old daughter as they arrived in Toronto after spending almost a day in transit.
"Now, we feel as if we got out of hell and we came to paradise," Jamkossian told Trudeau through an interpreter. "That's how we feel."
In Syria, Zires worked as a clerk in a women's clothing shop and Jamkossian worked as a blacksmith. A better life for their daughter Madeleine was the main motivation for coming to Canada.
"She is the reason for us to come here because here she can do many things," Zires said, also through an interpreter. "In other countries, she can do nothing."
Shadi Mardelli, who spoke to reporters at the airport shortly after he was processed, said he's looking forward to a "beautiful future" in Canada.
"Now in Canada, I can't imagine my feelings," he said. "I am so happy, thank you very much. I am looking for safety, a beautiful future and a new future."
A parliamentary welcome
Immigration Minister John McCallum said Canada is still on track to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. He suggested dozens more planeloads of refugees will arrive in the next few weeks to meet the target.
McCallum and Health Minister Jane Philpott were at the Ottawa train station as CN Rail announced $5 million to support resettling the newcomers.
All parties in the House of Commons unanimously adopted an NDP motion on Friday to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada.
"Resettling Syrian refugees is a national project that we should all be proud of," NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said. "As Syrian refugees arrive, they can be assured that all members of Parliament welcome them with open arms."
'2 times I escaped from the bombs'
Carolina Sefilian arrived in Toronto last night with her sister, telling CBC News that a new life in Canada is "a dream come true" for the siblings after escaping violence in her home of Aleppo.
"The situation is so bad," she said. "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 also thanked the Canadian government for the help.
Inspired by the passion of the volunteers supporting the settlement of thousands of refugees in Ontario. pic.twitter.com/4rjHDsJByH— @Kathleen_Wynne
The arriving families will meet with their sponsors today, like Rita Odjaghian with Armenian Families Support Services.
Among the people Odjaghian will help is a sister and brother who lost everything in Syria.
"It's an emotional moment for us," said Odjaghian. "We've been talking to them but this is now a face to face. Providing them the dignity, the life. Back to the normal life that us Canadians have but now we are providing them."
All of the Syrians who arrived yesterday are sponsored by private groups. Many of those groups had filed the necessary paperwork months ago in order to bring in some of the estimated 4.3 million displaced Syrians.
More than 400 refugees have already arrived on commercial flights since the Liberals took office on Nov. 4.
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The 163 people who arrived Thursday will settle in the following Canadian cities, according to statistics released by the Immigration Department:
- 116 at new homes in the Toronto area.
- Four in Windsor, Ont.
- Four in Kelowna, B.C.
- Three in Coquitlam, B.C.
- One in New Westminster, B.C.
- 20 in Calgary.
- 15 in Edmonton.
A second flight is set to arrive in Montreal on Saturday.