'Welcome to Canada': Sponsors greet early Syrian arrivals at Toronto airport

TORONTO -- Cheers erupted at Toronto's Pearson airport as two families of Syrian refugees emerged from the arrival gate Wednesday night.

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The newcomers appeared weary but moved as they came face to face with those whose support brought them to Canada.

Their sponsors, meanwhile, let out whoops of joy and hoisted signs of welcome above their heads.

Lubna Malik stood at the gate for hours flanked by her husband and other relatives. Next to her were bags bursting with winter coats, clothes and children's backpacks for the newcomers.

She says they learned Sunday that the two families would be arriving in a matter of days and have been scrambling to get everything ready.

For now, she says, the refugees will be staying with community members who have freed up their basement apartments in Milton, Ont., but only until more permanent lodging is found.

Malik and her husband are part of several families to join forces to sponsor Syrian refugees through a Muslim community group -- the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at.

"In Islam, we are supposed to help our fellow human beings," the stay-at-home mother of three said. "I think we all feel empathetic to them, these are people that were just like us and now they've lost everything.

"We are pretty much cancelling whatever we can because we just want to be there for them."

The group's spokesman, Safwan Choudhry, said the fundraising effort began only a few weeks ago, but the families had been on a waiting list for some time.

It was announced Wednesday afternoon that the first government airlift of Syrian refugees would arrive Thursday night.

The Liberal government has committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, with 10,000 of them set to arrive by year's end.

Temporary processing centres have been set up to handle the waves of newcomers at Toronto's Pearson airport and Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.


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