McCallum 'confident' 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada before March
Nearly 15,700 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4, still short of the 25,000 goal the federal government has set for the end of February.
But Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said Wednesday that the government is “confident” that 25,000 refugees will still arrive by Feb. 29.
According to the latest figures, 15,685 Syrian refugees have landed on Canadian soil as of Tuesday. Another 6,059 have had their applications approved, but have yet to travel to Canada. As of Jan. 31, there have been 57 government-organized flights to bring the refugees here.
McCallum told reporters in Ottawa that refugee flights are now also coming from Turkey, in addition to Jordan and Lebanon.
He also announced the start of a new program, Syrian Family Links, which seeks to match Canadian families seeking to bring over relatives affected by the war in Syria with other Canadians who are willing to sponsor them.
The program has been up and running for a week. So far, the government has identified 157 families seeking reunification and only five private sponsors, McCallum said.
“Obviously there is an imbalance at this time,” he said, but added that publicizing the program should encourage more sponsors to come forward.
McCallum acknowledged some of the setbacks of the refugee resettlement efforts, including the fact that government-assisted refugees seem to struggle more upon arrival than those who are privately sponsored.
McCallum said that’s “not surprising” because a lot of government-assisted refugees came from the most vulnerable groups in Syrian society. They have lower levels of education and don’t speak either English or French, which makes integration into Canadian society more challenging, he said.
“We don’t choose people with PhDs, we choose people who are most vulnerable,” and identified by the UN Refugee Agency as such, McCallum said.
Asked about refugees who have been crammed into hotel rooms, McCallum said those hotel stays are temporary and don’t last very long before another type of accommodation is found.
He said that Ottawa is looking into partnering with more municipalities that can take on refugees, and details will be released in the coming days.
McCallum was also asked about a U.S. Senate committee that’s discussing the implications of Canada’s refugee program and how it may impact U.S. security.
He said that the government has been “very forthright with Canadians” and “equally forthcoming” with the U.S. about its security plans.
He said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has had conversations with the U.S. secretary of homeland security, who has not expressed concerns about Canada’s refugee intake.
“We are in strong communication with our friends in the United States,” McCallum said.