By Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Ottawa: The Liberal government revealed Tuesday how it’s approaching the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees in the coming months, a process that’s going to take longer and cost more than originally planned.
Rather than bring that many people in by year’s end, the group will now be split in two, with 10,000 to arrive by Dec. 31 and the remainder by the end of February.
The delay was due to nothing more than a need to institute the best possible program, Immigration Minister John McCallum said.
“I’ve heard Canadians across the country say ‘yes, you have to do it right and if it takes a little bit longer to do it right than take the extra time’,” he said.
“When we welcome our newcomer friends with a smile, a smile alone is not sufficient.”
The first group will be made up largely of privately sponsored refugees, whose files, in many cases, have been in the works for months as churches and other community groups moved to assist some of the most vulnerable people fleeing the Syrian civil war.
The previous Conservative government can also take some of the credit as many of those files were opened under their prior Syrian refugee resettlement program.
For the component to be brought in by government, Canadian officials are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to select people from Jordan and Lebanon. They will work with the Turkish government to find suitable candidates from that country.
Priority for government refugees will be given to complete families, women at risk, members of sexual minorities and single men only if they are identified as gay, bisexual or transgender or are travelling as part of a family.
Private sponsors have no restrictions on whom they can bring over.
All health and security screening will take place overseas and will involve multiple assessments and the collection of biometrics.
Under regular immigration screening, a file that has some security concerns is sent for more detailed review, but in this instance, any red flags on the first pass will result in that person’s case being set aside entirely in order to speed the process, said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Once screening is done, refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft, though the military is also on call to provide airlifts every 48 hours if necessary.
From there, they will be spread across 36 destination cities which already have resettlement programs in place.
Temporary accommodation will be provided by the military if required, but the government aims to have lodging in place in the host cities and towns.
The federal government cost for the program is an estimated $678 million over the next six years but doesn’t include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories.
More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Since the outbreak of the war there in 2011, the UN estimates some 4.2 million people have been displaced.
The Liberals first commitment to a large-scale resettlement program during the federal election promised to resettle 25,000 people by the end of the year.
That was on top of the ongoing resettlement of Syrians refugees that began in 2013.
Government officials say that those who arrived prior to Nov. 4, 2015 will not be counted as being among the 25,000.
Since that date, about 100 Syrians have arrived in Canada.