The Canadian government announced their plan today to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year, with an additional 15,000 to follow in January and February of 2016. The Ministers of Health, Immigration and Defence assured Canadians at a news conference this afternoon that medical and security screening would be performed overseas, in advance of their arrival in Canada.
This number is short of the Liberal’s original year-end goal of 25,000, but members of the ad-hoc committee on refugees emphasized that proper screening processes and comprehensive resettlement plans must be in place to meet this influx.
“Yes we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right,” John McCallum, Minister of Immigration explained.
“When we welcome our newcomer friends with a smile, a smile alone is not sufficient,” he continued. “We want them to have a roof over their heads, we want them to have the right supports for language training and all the other things they need to begin their life here in Canada.”
Jane Philpott, chair of the ad-hoc committee on refugees and Minister of Health, told those in attendance that the government plans to identify all 25,000 Syrians to be resettled by the end of December and will prioritize those who are the most vulnerable.
Those resettled will include a mix of both private and government-assisted refugees, but only 2,000 of the end-of-year target will be government sponsored.
In order to keep their original promise of bringing 25,000 government-assisted refugees, McCallum said that the government will continue to sponsor and accept refugees beyond February, 2016.
The price tag on the Liberal program has now been pegged at up to $678 million over the next six years, but government representatives say this is “largely new money.” The Liberal platform only originally designated $250 million for the resettlement program.
Safety of Canadians
While the Liberal’s original year-end target was commended by refugee advocates, many experts also cautioned the government against bringing approximately 5,000 refugees a week for the next five weeks to the country without a comprehensive resettlement plan.
Approximately 54 per cent of Canadians echoed these concerns, according to recent polls, raising concerns over whether this tight timeline would allow for proper screening processes to take place.
The government responded to these concerns today with an announcement that full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, emphasized that they will be checking the identification of all prospective refugees at every stage of the process to ensure the safety of Canadians.
… full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees
Refugees must also be registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Turkish government before being processed by Canadian officials.
“We will meet the humanitarian imperative before us, and we will do so properly so all Canadians can be both proud and confident about what we’ve accomplished together,” commented Goodale.
Last week, information surfaced that the government will be narrowing its criteria for Syrian refugees to Canada. It will only be accepting women, children and families; single men seeking asylum may be sponsored privately, but will otherwise not be approved unless they are accompanying their parents or are members of the gay community.
When asked whether the recent attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 were at all responsible for this delayed deadline, McCallum said, No.
“It’s a logistic challenge that is extremely important in order to coordinate these things with our partners and other levels of the government,” he said. “It’s good to have a little more time.”
Resettlement in Canada
As to where refugees will be housed after they initially land in Canada, McCallum explained that there are 36 destination cities that already have the capacity to receive the refugees and provide them with the proper services to integrate them into Canadian society.
According to the Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.
… there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.
Over the previous six weeks, Canadian authorities in Lebanon have managed to screen about 100 people a day. This makes for a total of 4,000 asylum seekers in the past month and a half.
Since the Liberal government was sworn-in on November 4, only 102 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Approximately 3,000 Syrian refugees had previously arrived under the former Conservative government, but this number does not count against the 25,000 total.
Moving forward, the government expects to receive as many as 900 refugees a day, most of whom will arrive at airports in Toronto and Montreal. A majority will be brought to Canada by private planes, although military aircraft will be used if necessary.