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Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement process moving at ‘good clip’, John McCallum says

Syrian refugees won’t move to the front of the line for social housing or Canadian citizenship, Immigration Minister John McCallum said today.

As the first flights of Syrian refugees bound for Canada prepare for takeoff, McCallum said the Liberal government is “very sensitive” to some concerns that the new arrivals will have higher priority for jobs, housing or citizenship.

“We do have to be careful that the refugees not be seen to queue jump, if you will,” he said. 

With extended waits to gain Canadian citizenship, the refugees will have to apply and wait like everyone else and should not expect it “overnight,” McCallum said.

The minister said he has also heard from mayors of cities where residents having been waiting months or even years for social housing.

John McCallum

Immigration Minister John McCallum provides an update on the program to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. (CBC News)

“I don’t think it would be popular among those who have been waiting to long if refugees come in and suddenly go to the front of the line,” he said.

McCallum said Canadians have a “large welcoming attitude,” and the government must encourage and foster that by acting in a “prudent fashion.”

“It is a balance we have to strike,” the minister said. “On the one hand, I do think a large majority want to welcome these people coming from the scourge of civil war to our country, and make them feel comfortable, help them adjust and hope they will get jobs. But at the same time, we don’t want to put them in a privileged position relative to other Canadians who are themselves working hard to find housing, to become citizens and so on.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to make an announcement today with details about the arrival of the first group of refugees.

McCallum said he is “guardedly optimistic” the process will continue to move at a brisk pace.

New figures released during a briefing in Ottawa include:

  • 11,932 applications are in progress.
  • 1,451 permanent resident visas have been issued.
  • 416 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4, 2015.
  • 69 communities across Canada are preparing to welcome refugees.

This is a pretty good clip and a good sign for us in terms of getting this job done,” he said.

But he cautioned there is “no guarantee” that good news will continue, especially with the looming election in Lebanon, which has been issuing exit visas.

Won’t jump queue

McCallum also announced the government is increasing funding for resettlement assistance services by $ 3.6 million, in order to welcome refugees not only with “a smile, but also with a roof over their head.”

The minister confirmed that refugees will have full access to basic and supplementary benefits under the interim federal health program, but he stressed that Syrian refugees will not “jump the queue” for employment or housing.

To that end, the government is working to strike a balance between helping Syrians without penalizing Canadians, he said.

Yesterday, officials offered the media tours of the special airport terminals in Toronto and Montreal set up specifically to receive incoming flights of refugees. The first flight is expected to land Thursday evening in Toronto with approximately 160 on board. Montreal will receive its first government-organized flight by the weekend.

Canadian officials are on the ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey screening refugees and overseeing the necessary health and security checks before departure. 

Despite the new Liberal government’s original ambition to move 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015, the government is now saying only 10,000 will arrive this month, with the rest coming in the first few months of the new year.

Even the lower target is proving a challenge for officials and settlement groups working both abroad and domestically to ensure a safe and successful transition from conflict to Canadian life.

CBC | Politics News

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