A group of Syrian refugees attending a welcoming event in Vancouver, Canada, were attacked with pepper spray by a man riding past on a bicycle in what police suspect was a hate crime.
Up to 30 people, including very young children, were affected by the spray as they gathered outside the Muslim Association of Canada headquarters for an event put on for newly-arrived Syrians.
Police have launched a manhunt for the suspected attacker, seen by one eye witness riding past wearing a white hoodie, while the incident was condemned by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The pepper spray left some people struggling to see while others vomited in the street. At least 15 people were treated by paramedics and a few, including a girl who was about two years old, had to be taken to hospital.
The refugees were making their way to a waiting bus outside the building when the attack took place, and 16-year-old Nawal Addo said those still inside the entrance were hit worst.
“We saw people coming out from the building and they were in worse condition than us,” she said. “Their eyes were really puffed up. They weren't able to open their eyes.”
Tarek Ramadan, a volunteer translating for some of the Syrians, said their reaction was one of surprise. “A little bit of disappointment and a little bit of anger also, because they don't know, like, why, what's the reason? We haven't done anything wrong,” he said.
Mr Trudeau posted his reaction to the incident on Twitter, writing: “This isn't who we are — and doesn't reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered.”
In a press conference, Vancouver Police chief constable Adam Palmer said no arrests had yet been made. “This is a very troubling situation, as the actions of one man have shed a negative light on the positive work being done to welcome the Syrian refugees into our community,” he said.
I condemn the attack on Syrian refugees in Vancouver. This isn't who we are - and doesn't reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 9, 2016
“It is a hate crime against new people who have come to Canada, and that is a pretty serious thing.”
The premier of British Columbia, the mayor of Vancouver and the federal immigration minister John McCallum also expressed their outrage at the incident.
“This attack in no way represents their new home,” Mr McCallum said in a statement.
Canada's government has been widely praised for its commitment to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next month. Thousands have already arrived.
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