Syrian refugee children celebrated the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Canada by performing a series of heartfelt songs in the House of Commons.
“We thank you Canada, our new home Canada,” CultureLink’s Nai Syrian Children’s Choir sang on Thursday. “We love you, Canada.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood beaming in the audience during the emotional Parliament Hill performance. The nation’s leader was moved to tears last week while speaking with a Syrian refugee man he had personally welcomed into Canada a year earlier.
Trudeau was elected in October 2015 after promising to bring more Syrian refugees to the country. His government has resettled almost 36,400 to date.
The children sang to parliamentarians in Canada’s two official languages, English and French, as well as in Arabic: “Oh world, my land has been set on fire. The land of freedom has been stolen. ... Give us our childhood, give us peace.”
The Syrian civil war has killed nearly 500,000 people and forced more than 11 million to flee their homes. At least 6.5 million are displaced, but still in Syria.
Despite the Canadian government’s welcome embrace of Syrian newcomers and the anti-Islamophobia motion it passed this year, Canada has seen deliberate acts of hate. Just this week, students at Montreal’s McGill University reported anti-Muslim fliers posted on campus.
The choir seemed to gently address this sort of xenophobia in song lyrics: “I am a child with something to say, please listen to me. I am child who wants to play, why won’t you let me?” they sang. “Please give us a chance. ... I am singing for tomorrow.”