Syrian refugee families arrive in Toronto
First full military planeload of refugees scheduled to land Thursday night
The day before the first full military planeload of Syrian refugees is set to land in Canada, two brothers and their families arrived in Toronto Wednesday evening to begin their new lives.
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When they finally walked into the airport terminal to greet their sponsors, they were met with cheers and long, warm embraces before they answered reporters' questions.
The brothers fled to Egypt to escape the bombing in Syria two-and-a-half years ago, but wanted a permanent home in which to settle. They said Wednesday they were happy and thankful to be in Canada.
"We just think that Canada is the country of peace and that's why we came here," Mazen Khabbaz told reporters through a translator.
Seven children in total made the journey and said they were "very happy" to have finally arrived here.
"They are expecting snow," the translator said. "Because Canada is known by snow."
'The response has been amazing'
Sammer Mian was part of a group in Milton that sponsored the two of the families. Members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama in Milton pulled the necessary funds together within just two weeks. On Sunday, they got the call from Humanity First, the humanitarian group they partnered with, that the families would be arriving this week.
Humanity First said two brothers and their families were on their way, and wanted to keep them together and settle them in the same community.
"I slept for two, three hours and had to organize who is going to cook for the family, and what kind of food do they like and their (clothing) sizes," she said.
The first refugees are arriving in Canada Thursday following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to bring 10,000 here by the end of the year and another 25,000 by the end of February.
Ghalib Baten, Imam of the Milton chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama, said that after his congregation decided to sponsor a family, they created a What's App group and appealed for donations, volunteers and other help.
Once they hit the total required to sponsor one family, they decided to sponsor two.
"The response has been amazing," Baten told CBC News.
"What we teach and what we've learned from Islam and the Koran is to help people. The Koran specifically teaches to help refugees. The Koran specifically also says that if someone requests refuge, it's incumbent upon you to give them refuge."
'A very warm welcome'
"We are bringing these people from the horrible world where they live over to our wonderful country," McCallum told reporters on Wednesday. "And I know Canadians will give them a very warm welcome."
The refugees will be given social insurance cards and permanent residency status.
"At the same time, we don't want to put them in a privileged position relative to other Canadians," McCallum said. "So it is a balance that we are seeking to strike."
Baten, the imam of the Milton group, said because the refugees are "stuck between places" they have nowhere to go.
"They've lost their homes, they pretty much are stateless," he said. "So it's important to give them a chance and give them an opportunity and welcome them to a country that has space for them."