After warm welcome in Toronto, 163 Syrian refugees embark on new journey

Dozens of Syrian refugees who arrived on the first government flight to Toronto will spend their first full day in Canada as permanent residents.

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The 163 refugees – all of them privately-sponsored -- arrived at Pearson International Airport Thursday night, where they were welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, among other dignitaries.

"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," Kevork Jamkossian told Trudeau as cameras flashed around them.

"You are home," Trudeau said. "Welcome home."

All refugees received a warm welcome, along with winter clothing and teddy bears for the children. Photos and videos of the arrivals were tweeted with the hashtags #WelcomeRefugees and #WelcometoCanada, which were still trending on Friday morning.

After security and health checks, the new arrivals were issued social insurance numbers and health cards so they can begin a new life in Canada.

Most of them arrived at a hotel near the airport around 5 a.m. ET, where they could get a short rest before continuing their journey.

Shadi Mardelli, who escaped Syria with his family and lived in Lebanon for over a year, told reporters outside the hotel that he’s “very happy” to be in Canada.

“I’m so happy, thank you very much,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to a “beautiful future” and living in safety.

The majority of refugees who arrived Thursday night will remain in Ontario. They will be housed in Toronto, Willowdale, Windsor and Hamilton, among other communities.

About 70 Syrian-Armenian refugees who were on the flight are expected to arrive at an Armenian community centre in Toronto sometime Friday.

Another 35 refugees are heading to Calgary or Edmonton, while eight are going to British Columbia.

A second refugee flight is set to arrive in Montreal on Saturday.

In a statement issued Friday, Trudeau said Canada is “doing the right thing by providing refuge for those so desperately seeking safety.”

The federal government plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year and another 15,000 in early 2016.

With files from The Canadian Press



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