These were the words that greeted 163 Syrian refugees after they landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport late at night on Thursday, December 10. For these families and individuals, immigration to Canada is both the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new life. The warm welcome was not just provided by airport staff, however, as Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on hand to greet each of the weary newcomers.
“You’re safe at home now,” said Trudeau. “This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult straits.
“This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin colour 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.”
A long journey
For the individuals fortunate enough to immigrate to Canada, as well as the thousands more who will arrive over the holiday season and into 2016, safety is an almost forgotten concept. These are people who have known nothing but fear and distress since their homeland of Syria descended into chaos and civil war in 2011. These families and individuals have lost loved ones, homes, jobs, and other possessions, all the while not knowing where to run to or who to trust.
“We suffered a lot,” said Kevork Jamkossian, a blacksmith who arrived in Toronto with his wife, Georgina Zires, and the couple’s 16-month-old daughter, Madeleine, after eight long months living at a refugee camp in Lebanon.
“Now, we feel as if we got out of hell and we came to paradise.”
Though Madeleine might not yet comprehend that the first few months of her life were not normal, her future prospects appear bright. Canada, after all, is a country that was recently first in the world for opportunity by the Social Progress Index, with stand-out results for tolerance for immigrants. Canada remains one of the most desirable places to live in the world, with the vast majority of immigrants from all backgrounds happy to be here.
The Jamkossian family was presented with winter coats, boots, hats and gloves, as well as a teddy bear for Madeleine that was presented by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had also turned up for the occasion.
An opportunity to experience the Canadian Dream
While the majority of the passengers on this plane were bound for locations in Toronto, others were heading on to locations in British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Southwest Ontario.
Each of the newcomers on this flight was sponsored by one of many private groups in Canada who have stepped forward to assist in the settlement of refugees across Canada. These sponsors have agreed to arrange the newcomers’ housing, education and other settlement needs, and are required to have raised $28,000 Canadian dollars per refugee sponsored.
Within hours of arriving on Canadian soil, these new immigrants to Canada walk out of the terminal as permanent residents with social insurance numbers, provincial health cards and, eventually, the opportunity to become full Canadians.
Government drops lawsuit over refugee health care costs
In addition to speeding up the refugee settlement process and increasing the number of refugees who may settle over the coming weeks, months and years, the government of Canada has also announced that it is dropping a controversial lawsuit that was initiated by the previous government, led by Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party.
In the case of The Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care et al, the Conservatives had appealed a Federal Court decision that found cuts to health coverage for some refugees and refugee claimants unconstitutional, adding that the move to curtail coverage was cruel and put lives at risk. The case resulted from the overhaul in 2012 of a program that covers health costs for refugees and refugee claimants.
While the Liberals say they won’t pursue the appeal, they still have not reversed the cuts themselves, except for carving out an exemption for the 25,000 Syrians currently being resettled. Other adjustments are being considered.
A win-win for Canada
“If you juxtapose the new government of Canada’s reaction to the ongoing refugee crisis with the sort of rhetoric in the United States, it reveals a stark contrast. While it would be naïve to think that none of the language and beliefs that exist south of the border can also be found in Canada, it exists only on the outer margins of society. The vast majority of Canadians are very much supportive of a welcoming attitude towards these individuals who have been through so much,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“Even in my local community in Montreal I have met dozens of people who have stepped up and asked what they can do to help. They’re not looking for recognition or credit or to be seen to be helping out, but rather they are observing a situation and seeing themselves as part of a solution. Passion and empathy are far more apparent across the country than apathy, and it’s a relief to see a government that is prepared to tap into that spirit and take it forward with real, immediate action.”
A special donation fund that the Campbell Cohen law firm established in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last September remains open for new donations.
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