Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
The Syrian girl in a pink coat looked up at the famous prime minister of Canada as cameras flashed and her family beamed around her."What's your name?" Justin Trudeau asked, extending a hand and grasping hers. "Lucie," she responded with a small smile.And with introductions like that, Trudeau welcomed the first big wave of refugees to arrive in Canada as part of a program to fast track Syrian refugees out of their war-torn region. He has pledged to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of February, most of whom will be sponsored by families or groups that will help them get settled.
The 163 refugees who arrived Thursday night in Toronto came on a military plane from Beirut, but others have been trickling in for weeks on commercial flights. They landed at Pearson International Airport, where they went through a special terminal set up for their welcome. They received coats, toys and other gear to handle the winter.
"We really would like to thank you for all this hospitality and the warm welcome and all the staff — we felt ourselves at home and we felt ourselves highly respected," the Canadian Press quoted Kevork Jamkossian telling Trudeau."You are home," Trudeau said. "Welcome home."Earlier, Trudeau told workers and volunteers gathered to welcome the refugees at the airport of the importance of the event."This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a plane load of new Canadians what Canada is all about but we get to show the world, how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations."Tonight 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," he said."This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people around the world share.
"How you will receive these people tonight will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives but also, I know, something you will remember for the rest of your lives. And I thank you deeply for being a part of this. Because this matters. Tonight matters."