After decades in legal limbo, 28 refugees who fled communist Vietnam have finally arrived in Canada.

Half of the group was greeted at Pearson Airport on Sunday by a crowd holding “Welcome to Canada” signs.

In addition to the 14 who arrived in Toronto, another 14 refugees are landing in other Canadian cities including Ottawa and Calgary.

The refugees had been stranded in Thailand without legal status after leaving their homeland, which was in the process of reuniting the north and south following a brutal civil war.

More than 50,000 Vietnamese were granted refugee status by Canada between 1979 and 1981, and many more continued to leave for neighbouring countries in the hopes of one day coming to Canada too.

But when the UN declared in 1990 that they no longer needed special protection, hopes faded for many.

In Thailand, those who had fled continued to feel that they were under threat. “If [Thai authorities] saw us,” one of them said at the airport, “they would arrest our family, so we were just worked secretly there.”

A small group was finally accepted by Canada on humanitarian grounds this year, after an advocacy campaign by a group of local volunteers.

James Nguyen, from the Vietnamese Association of Toronto, was among those who helped to get the group to Canada.

“We raised almost $200,000 so we could take care of these folks and they would not be a burden on the Canadian society,” Nguyen said Sunday.

Each has a sponsor to help them get settled in their new country.

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Heather Wright