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Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the new measures mean the 10,000 Syrian refugees the government previously promised to resettle in the next three years would instead be brought to Canada by September 2016 — “a full 15 months earlier than anticipated,” he told reporters in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
Syrians and Iraqis fleeing civil war and sectarian conflict will no longer have to prove they are convention refugees under the United Nations Refugee Agency, but will be presumed to be refugees by Canadian authorities for the purposes of vetting their applications.
The UN has conceded it has been overwhelmed by claims for refugee status in recent months, resulting in a considerable backlog of applications.
“Today, by designating them differently, we are greatly expanding the potential for candidates and sponsorship with the private partners across Canada,” said Alexander, who’s running for re-election in the riding of Ajax, Ont., for the Oct. 19 federal vote.
“Some of our officers have already reached the missions that are most involved in the resettlement efforts,” he said. “We will have more human resources hitting the ground in the coming days and weeks.”
“We will do all of that by cutting red tape,” the minister said in French, adding that a special co-ordinator will be appointed to handle the overall file of Syrian and Iraqi refugees by working with community partners and other levels of government.
On the Canadian side, Alexander said the government is doubling the size of the workforce at the Winnipeg processing centre where all applications are handled.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis facing the Middle East and Europe became a major issue on the campaign trail after it was revealed that the family of a drowned Syrian toddler had hoped to come to Canada.
Kurdi’s aunt lives in the Vancouver area and had failed in a refugee sponsorship bid for the young boy’s uncle earlier this year. One of the roadblocks to the Kurdi family’s reunification was their lack of convention refugee status from the UN.
The Conservatives faced fierce criticism from political rivals that they have not done enough to help Syrians escaping the ongoing violence despite having made an announcement in August that they would seek to bring in 10,000 Syrians in addition to the previous commitment of the same number.
Both the NDP and Liberals have offered up their own plans. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has said on the campaign trail that a New Democratic government would resettle 10,000 Syrians before the end of the year. He has also stressed the need for more Canadian immigration officials to be on the ground in the Middle East.
“Today he recognized that the Conservative government’s policies were failing,” said the Liberal. “He has refused to provide leadership on this issue, continually hiding behind fear mongering and bureaucratic roadblocks.”
“We did not make up this plan on the back of a napkin or pull it out of thin air. We looked carefully at our capacity. We looked carefully at the steps and procedures to keep Canada and Canadians safe,” he said.