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Canada Welcomes Syrian Refugees With Open Arms

CORY TURNER, HOST:

Here in the U.S., there's a bitter debate over how many or even whether to allow Syrian refugees into the country. Up north in Canada, the debate is over. They're already arriving. NPR's Jackie Northam is on the line from Barrie, Ontario. Hey, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Cory.

TURNER: So how many refugees are we talking about? And how are they being received?

NORTHAM: They're expecting about 25,000 refugees to arrive by the end of February. And they are being received with open arms. Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, met the first planeload that landed in Toronto on Friday. And he told the refugees they're safe at home now. The front page of the Toronto Star just said, welcome in English and Arabic. And it had an editorial talking about how Canadians have watched the nightmare Syrians have gone through and that it's behind them. And World Vision, a faith-based refugee group, put together a video of Canadian children welcoming Syrian children.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's a very nice place here. There's no war, and you can go to school safely. And welcome.

TURNER: Jackie, taking in 25,000 refugees, that's no small feat considering Canada's new government has only been in power - what? - a few weeks. How's it been able to pull this off?

NORTHAM: Well, originally, Trudeau wanted all 25,000 refugees in by the end of the year. And it became quickly apparent that was a bit too much to ask. So it is being extended until the end of February. And now, about 10,000 refugees are due to arrive before January. Most of them have been privately sponsored by individuals or groups. And their applications were already in the works, so sponsors are committed to being responsible for the refugee for one year. And that includes providing financial help during that time, helping them find housing and schools for children, just getting them acclimated. At the same time, you know, the Canadian government will still provide health care and travel expenses and language classes. And then, Cory, the next group of refugees will be government-sponsored.

TURNER: And a big question in the debate here and I assume there as well, what is the government doing to, A, double check that these refugees are who they say they are, and, B, to make sure they pose no security risk?

NORTHAM: Most of the refugees have been living in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey. And they will have been vetted originally by the U.N.'s refugee agency. Then they'll go through various levels of screening, and that includes by Canadian immigration and security officials, even before getting on a plane to Canada. Most of the refugees will be women and children, elderly people and families and people with injuries or medical conditions. The Canadian officials say unaccompanied young men will just have to wait.

TURNER: NPR's Jackie Northam from Barrie, Ontario. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Cory. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.