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Syrian refugee process in Turkey 'a little bit behind,' Canadian ambassador says

As the effort to select and process Syrian refugees for resettlement in Canada ramps up in Jordan and Lebanon, a more complex situation on the ground in Turkey has slowed the pace of the operation there.

Ensuring Turkish list of refugee applicants is accurate a challenge, John Holmes says

A family of Syrian refugees are interviewed by authorities in hope of being approved for passage to Canada at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan. Canada's ambassador to Turkey says processing in Turkey is moving slower than in Jordan or Lebanon. (Paul Chiasson/Reuters)

As the effort to select and process Syrian refugees for resettlement in Canada ramps up in Jordan and Lebanon, a more complex situation on the ground in Turkey has slowed the pace of the operation there.

The Canadian government has committed to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada from the three countries by the end of December. An additional 15,000 will be resettled by March.

The processing centres in Amman, Jordan, and Beirut, Lebanon, are ramping up to meet the demand. A Canadian official said the government met its goal of processing 500 refugees a day at the Amman centre on the weekend.

John Holmes, Canada's ambassador to Turkey, says officials in the country are "a little bit behind our colleagues." (Government of Canada)
But the situation in Turkey is a different story.

"We're a little bit behind our colleagues in the other posts but we're going to do our best," said John Holmes, Canada's ambassador to Turkey, in an interview with CBC News.

Canadian officials in Turkey are working with the Turkish government and the International Organization for Migration to identify potential cases for resettlement. In Lebanon and Jordan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is handling the referrals.

Turkey needed additional time to update its list of candidates before handing that over to staff at the embassy in Ankara, the ambassador said. The Turkish ministry in charge of migration management is working with the United States, Australia and some European nations to resettle Syrians.

"That really caused the slight delay," Holmes said.
Refugees Rani Al-Turkamany, 42, his wife Abeer, 37, and their children - Belal (10), Khaled (17) and Heba (5) - are all originally from Homs, Syria, are pictured in Amman. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Ensuring that names on the Turkish list are accurate is also a challenge, given the migration of tens of thousands of Syrians through Turkey toward Europe.

"We fully anticipate a number of the people that we phone either are no longer in Turkey or more likely the families are split up and some have moved on," Holmes said.

He declined to say how many Syrian refugees from Turkey will be resettled to Canada, saying it was too early speculate on those numbers.

Security of staff a top priority

Thirty additional Canadian personnel will be deployed to Turkey to assist with the refugee airlift. A processing centre is being established in Gaziantep, a major city in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border.
Waseem, 6, and his sister, Nour, 4, are taken by the International Organization for Migration to the Special Operations Forces Exhibition in Amman for final medical tests. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

"Security, of course, is a concern in that part of the world. So that is our No. 1 priority for our staff," Holmes said.

Thirty-three people were killed in July when a suicide bomber with reported links to ISIS attacked a crowd of youth activists in the Turkish town of Suruc, 110 kilometres from Gaziantep.

The Canadian Embassy in Ankara is working with the International Organization for Migration on a plan to airlift the refugees in Turkey to Canada. Holmes said he's unsure when those charter flights will depart, adding that "we are a few weeks away."

Syrians living in Lebanon and Jordan will be brought to Amman for final processing before boarding charter planes at the Marka airport. Again, there is no word from Ottawa on when those flights will begin.

Canadian consular officials and other government staff continue to arrive in the Middle East to assist with the resettlement effort. Most expect to work through the Christmas holiday season to meet Canada's resettlement goal.

"I'll probably be eating turkey in a hotel room," said one Canadian staffer temporarily in Amman.

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

CBC News Middle East correspondent

Derek Stoffel is the Middle East correspondent for CBC News. He has covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war and covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

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