The government faces a difficult challenge to fulfil its commitment to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of this year, newly released figures from the office of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander suggest.
The news comes as Amnesty International and the Syrian Canadian Council call on Canada to do more for the people who fled years of bloody fighting in Syria.
The numbers are contained in written answers to questions submitted by NDP MP Paul Dewar in October, and tabled in the House of Commons yesterday.
The document says that as of Nov. 13, 457 Syrian refugees have landed in Canada. That number includes 163 refugees sponsored by private groups and 294 sponsored by the government.
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Alexander has repeatedly said more than 1,150 Syrians "have received Canada’s protection" in response to questions both inside and outside the House of Commons.
Numbers in dispute
Groups working with refugees in Canada have said that figure is misleading as it likely includes Syrians who have arrived in Canada on their own and claimed asylum.
They have urged Alexander to do more to increase the number of refugees being resettled in Canada. So far, the government has only committed to 1,300 by the end of 2014.
That promise was made in July 2013 by Jason Kenney, who was then the immigration minister.
Refugee sponsorship groups have warned for months the promise would be difficult to keep, given delays that already existed in processing applications.
The newly released document says the first privately sponsored refugee to land in Canada under the government’s promise only arrived in March of this year.
Another figure though, suggests there is a large number of Syrians who want to come to Canada as refugees.
It states that the immigration department received 2,343 applications for privately sponsored refugees from October 2013 to September 2014.
"It is important to note that the scale and scope of the Syrian refugee crisis will not be solved by resettlement alone," the document said, echoing statements made by Alexander.
UN asked Canada to do more
The document also repeats the government’s claim that Canada is "one of the world’s largest providers of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees."
To date, Canada has committed more than $630 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance in response to the Syrian crisis.
Last month, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Alexander was secretly warned in the spring by immigration officials that the government would not be able to fulfil its promise to accept 1,300 refugees by year's end.
The UN says more than 3.1 million Syrians have registered as refugees since the war began. Many are living in camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Earlier this year, the UN asked Canada to take in thousands more Syrians.
So far, the government has not announced any further commitments.
Read the full text of the reply to MP Paul Dewar from the Immigration Minister
Written question reply - Syrian refugees
Written question reply - Syrian refugees (PDF KB)
Written question reply - Syrian refugees (Text KB)