Immigration Minister John McCallum says more than 10,000 Syrian refugees will have passed medical exams and other requirements to be certified as permanent residents of Canada by the end of the year — but may not all be on Canadian soil by that time.
"I am convinced that, by the end of the year, 10,000 or more Syrian refugees will be confirmed, certified as Canadian permanent residents. The issue is whether all of those 10,000 Syrian refugees will have arrived in Canada, will have their feet on Canadian soil by Dec. 31," McCallum told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa Wednesday.
McCallum said factors beyond the government's control, including the weather and refugees wanting to say goodbye to friends and families, may not make it possible to meet its ambitious goal by year's end.
But McCallum said he remains confident the government will meet its "fundamental target" of 25,000 by the end of February.
Before the press conference was even over, McCallum was bristling at headlines saying he had said 10,000 refugees won't be in Canada by the end of the year. He insisted it is still too soon to say.
"We are moving heaven and earth to get them here as quickly as we can but to do it in a way that is correct and appropriate and takes due concern for security, medical and other issues," McCallum said.
"We are sticking to our target of 10,000 by the end of the year, but there are challenges and it's less possible to guarantee that than it is the 25,000 target, but we are still committed to it and we are still working very hard to achieve it."
McCallum added the government has the capacity to operate up to five flights a day.
During the election, the Liberals promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of the year, a higher number than both the NDP and Conservatives combined.
In November, the Liberals amended that promise to 25,000 by the end of February, with the first 10,000 to have landed by the end of December.
Flight to arrive tonight in Montreal
Reporters at Wednesday's briefing were told that, as of Dec. 21, 1,869 refugees had already landed in Canada, with three more flights scheduled to land between today and Dec. 31, including a flight that will depart on Christmas Day and arrive in Canada on Boxing Day.
Of those refugees already here, McCallum said 339 are government-assisted refugees, 1,297 are privately sponsored refugees and 233 were "blended" cases.
McCallum said a plane carrying 298 refugees is en route to Canada Wednesday and its arrival would bring the number of refugees in Canada since November to more than 2,000.
An Air Transat flight left from Amman, Jordan earlier today and is expected to arrive in Montreal at 6:30 p.m. ET, according to a release by the airline, although the airline's statement put the number of refugees aboard at 304, not 298 as announced at the briefing. Air Transat has operated two earlier flights of refugees to Canada, on Dec. 20 and 21, the company said.
McCallum also announced Wednesday the government would provide $15 million to agencies in 23 communities to help provide housing and supplies for arriving refugees.
McCallum, who recently returned from visiting refugee processing centres in Lebanon and Jordan, recalled "the most moving part" of his trip: meeting a girl at a UNICEF facility in Jordan who had heard about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming refugees in Toronto and wanted to come to Canada.
McCallum said the girl and her brothers weren't able to come to Canada at this time, but thousands more will.