OTTAWA: Canada has welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee, the government announced Wednesday, although almost two weeks behind schedule and far fewer than it had originally planned to resettle by now.
A plane carrying asylum seekers landed in Toronto late Tuesday, putting the number of arrivals at 10,121 since November, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took office.
In a statement, Immigration Minister John McCallum called it a “significant milestone” on the way to meeting the Liberal’s overall pledge to take in 25,000 Syrians.
“Many people have worked day and night to bring these refugees to Canada,” he said, “and Canadians have opened their communities and their hearts to welcome them.
“Canada continues to set an international example with its response to the worst refugee crisis of our time.”
Trudeau had promised during an election campaign last year to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by December 31.
The European migrant crisis was full-blown and images of drowned Syrian child Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a Turkish beach appeared on the front page of most dailies, leading the Liberals to criticize the Tory government of not doing enough for Syrian refugees.
But after the Liberals assumed power the target date was pushed to the end of February, following criticism that the new government was moving too fast amid security concerns in the aftermath of deadly attacks in Paris, as well as due to logistical issues.
A new interim target of taking in 10,000 by December 31 was set, but only 6,000 Syrians travelling from camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey made it onto Canadian soil by year’s end.
Outside parliament, McCallum said: “There’s little doubt in my mind that 25,000 will have arrived by the end of February.”
“But I think now attention should turn or has turned to the resettlement,” he said.
“We have now demonstrated, I think, an ability to get the machine up and to deliver the refugees to Canada. The next phase — and it won’t be easy, it won’t always be totally smooth — is to… ensure that they find a place to live and get services that they require.”
The minister dismissed concerns about possible clashes such as those that occurred recently in Germany, saying the situations are “quite different.”
Last week, newly-arrived Syrian refugees were pepper-sprayed at a welcome event in Vancouver in an attack condemned by Trudeau.
“We are obviously very mindful of the situation in Germany and the problems that Germany has been having, but let me remind you that we are talking about 25,000 Syrian refugees (while) Germany has accepted close to a million.
“Most of them (coming to Canada) are not single men. Most of them are family members, whereas Germany accepts everybody that comes to its borders,” he added.
The UN refugee agency estimates that more than four million Syrians have fled the civil war ravaging their country. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the total number of dead at more than 260,000 people.
Canada takes in an average of 250,000 refugees from around the world each year.