New citizens start lives in Canada as country seeks immigrants

CALGARY, Alberta, June 22 (Reuters) - At citizenship ceremonies across the country, new Canadians began a fresh chapter in their lives last month in a land they chose for what they saw as its diversity, safety and opportunity.

"There's lots of multiculturalism here," said Flor Mejid, originally from El Salvador, who attended a ceremony in Calgary, Alberta. "My high school that I went to (in Canada)... there were students from the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and they all got along really well."

Mejid was one of 90 people at the ceremony, hailing from 23 countries, who became citizens weeks before Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary on July 1.

Sajedeh Ghassemi, originally from Iran, attended a ceremony in Mississauga, just west of Toronto. "I want to have a better future because as a Middle Eastern woman in my country, I cannot do a lot of stuff," she said.

Even as the United States under President Donald Trump becomes more closed off - with a pending ban on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries and a crackdown on immigration violations - Canada's arms remain open.

After Trump issued a travel ban order in January, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that his country welcomes all fleeing war and persecution.

Since January, nearly 3,500 asylum seekers have entered Canada illegally from the United States. In June, Canada launched a fast-track visa for highly skilled workers, seeking to take advantage of the tougher U.S. immigration environment.

"Canada will welcome a target of 300,000 new permanent residents in 2017," a spokesman for the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada federal department said in a statement.

"Planned admissions for resettled refugees in 2017 is 25,000 ... Immigration continues to play a key role in contributing to Canada's well-being, to our economic prosperity."

During Calgary's ceremony, citizenship Judge Joe Woodward told the new Canadians of their responsibilities to contribute to society and "to keep Canada alive."

"When you become a part of Canada, Canada becomes a part of you," he said.

Yosra Boudhrioua, originally from Tunisia, did not speak fluent English when she came to Canada in 2012. But five years later, when she attended the Calgary ceremony, she was completing a degree to become a teacher.

"It doesn't put you down," she said of Canada's immigration system, which offers free language classes. "You're always up if you have the passion."

(Reporting by Ethan Lou in Calgary, Alberta; Additional reporting by Mark Blinch in Mississauga, Ontario; Editing by Dan Grebler)