Canada began welcoming Syrian refugees in larger numbers last year, after a promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the new year. Through the past year, Canada gave the world a lesson about dealing with the refugees and the refugee crisis.
The new arrivals were greeted with much fanfare, including a smiling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming the first planeload at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Dec. 10 with winter coats.
Across the country, Syrians have arrived in new neighborhoods and schools and, as with so many waves of immigrants before them, both the refugees and the communities that received them worked together to create the integration they both seek.
While government-assisted refugees are usually settled in cities and large towns, families who are privately sponsored can end up anywhere. In more than 300 communities across the country, locals have banded together to provide housing, English classes, driving lessons, a crash course in Canadian customs and, most important of all, friendship.
One of the many noted things is the absence of anti-migration speech in politics in Canada.
Fears about young Arab men are not uncommon in Europe, where the refugee crisis and rightwing rhetoric have fuelled cultural tensions. But as I discovered in Nova Scotia, Canadians don’t always follow the standard script.
This is a country where politicians tried to outbid one another during the last federal election with pledges to resettle Syrian refugees.
It’s a country in which no political party has an anti-immigration platform.
After a year of the first wave of newcomers, Mr. Trudeau met again with the people he welcomed by himself.
Justin Trudeau broke down in tears as he was reunited with a Syrian refugee he welcomed into Canada last year.
Mr Trudeau personally welcomed refugees arriving at the airport last year and was seen handing out winter coats. On Monday, he met some of the families who have settled in the country at a restaurant in Toronto in a meeting filmed by Canadian broadcaster CBC.
Vanig Garabedian and his family arrived in the city after fleeing the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo last December. He described meeting the Prime Minister at the airport and how he felt welcomed into the country after witnessing the horrors of war in his beloved home country.
“When I met the Prime Minister, he said two words: ‘Welcome home’,” Mr Garabedian told a visibly emotional Mr Trudeau. “So imagine, you are leaving a war zone, leaving your home and you are welcomed by two words. My memories at that moment went back to Syria before the war, our life and happiness there and the horrible moments we went through during the war. So I felt that I am proud to be here and now, after one year, I am proud to be Canadian as I always will be proud to be Syrian.”
Mr Trudeau explained his tears: “Being there in the name of all Canadians to welcome people was really important […] witnessing you and your girls walk through the airport towards me was a moment in which I understood just the kind of things we could do as a country and that I can help this country do. You wouldn’t have been walking on Canadian soil that night if I hadn’t said: ‘We can do this together’ and made it done. That, for me, was as strong and clear a reinforcement that I was going to be okay in this job.
“Seeing you here today, I told myself I would not get emotional about this, but it is just a wonderful moment for me but it is also a reflection of what is best about Canada,” he said.
Under Mr Trudeau’s relatively new premiership last year, the Canadian government implemented a plan to accept 25,000 refugees. Since 4 November 2015 over 35,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the country. A further 20,000 applications from refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries are being processed.