More Syrian refugees arrive in Canada. How are they doing it?

The first government-sponsored Syrian refugees arrived Thursday, but private organizations have already brought some and are continuing to bring refugee families to Canada.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press/AP
Syrian refugees step off a bus into a hotel after arriving on the first government-arranged flight into Toronto's Pearson International Airport, on Friday in Toronto.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent Thursday evening at the airport.

He met a plane carrying 163 Syrians – the first arrivals sponsored by Canada's government – and welcomed them along with leaders of both parties and private citizens holding "Welcome to Canada" signs, the Associated Press reported.

"Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,” Mr. Trudeau said, according to the AP.

Canada's approach to the Syrian refugee crisis now features a newly rejuvenated government effort, but it began months earlier with private sponsorship of refugees.

Nancy Willborn of British Columbia, Canada, is renovating her rental home for a refugee family as the province prepares to take 220 on private sponsorships CBC News reported.

"My parents were here helping the other day. Mom is, I don't know 83. Dad is 88 and they were on their hands and knees [doing work]," Ms. Willborn told CBC News.

She said she could rent the home for twice as much but prefers to help by offering it to a refugee family.

"I'm aware of the need that's going on in the world at the moment with this refugee crisis," Willborn told CBC News. "I just thought that I would offer the house."

Trudeau has pledged Canada to take 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, and although logistics might complicate the lofty goal, about 800 per day are being screened in the Middle East to prepare for the move to Canada, the AP reported.

Organizations that have raised money and support for sponsorships include churches, universities, and Syrian immigrant community groups. One couple in Toronto downsized their wedding plans and donated the money to a refugee family sponsorship, The Christian Science Monitor reported in November.

Canadian groups pay the living expenses for a family's first year at a cost of $28,000 per family. Private sponsorships have already brought 687 Syrian refugees to Canada through this and other means, according to a government statement, and they are settling in communities where volunteers prioritize reuniting families.

The sponsoring group's duties begin after they pay start-up costs of about $7,000, then meet their assigned refugee family at the airport to escort them home, according to Lifeline Syria. The sponsors receive help from within their community, as some Canadians who have medical or translation abilities are volunteering their time and skills.

To organize this effort, the Toronto University Lifeline Syria Challenge has asked students from four post-secondary schools in the area to act as interpreters and is offering training to those who have the necessary Arabic skills and interest.

Radwan Al-Nachawati, a student of Syrian descent, volunteered as an interpreter for a Syrian family of 14 that arrived in November. He told CBC News he was grateful to have a concrete way to help and felt empowered after years of worrying.

"It's not only about bringing the families over," he said. "It's about helping them out when they're here."

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