Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed his government’s first planeload of privately sponsored Syrian refugees Thursday, 163 in all, marking a significant step toward fulfilling a campaign promise.
Prior to his stunning Oct. 19 victory, Trudeau had vowed to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end. That deadline has since been pushed back to the end of February, with an estimated 10,000 refugees expected before 2016.
“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada’s all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations,” Trudeau said Thursday night.
The plane full of refugees landed just before midnight in Toronto as other privately sponsored refugees arrived on commercial flights, Reuters reported.
Though public opinion is mixed in Canada, a plurality of citizens support Trudeau’s effort, according to one recent survey. That poll, conducted this week, found that 48 percent of Canadians support Trudeau’s resettlement plan while 44 percent were opposed.
Attitudes are similar in the U.S. A Thursday poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 53 percent of Americans support resettlement, while 41 percent are opposed.
President Obama in September directed his administration to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refuges in this fiscal year, a sixfold increase over the number accepted during the last fiscal year.
The Toronto Star, a major Canadian daily newspaper, marked the refugees’ arrival Thursday by welcoming them in large type on its front page. Beneath it, the paper published a brief message to the refugees.
“You’re with family now,” it began. “… You’ll find the place a little bigger than Damascus or Aleppo, and a whole lot chillier. But friendly for all that.”
At least 69 communities across Canada are preparing to welcome refugees, according to the government.