Canada to accept up to 1,300 Syrian refugees

Canada will accept as many as 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday in Edmonton.

Kenney opens door to 200 'extremely vulnerable' people, 1,100 more via private sponsorship

Canada will accept as many as 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday in Edmonton.

But the government is relying on private sponsors for the vast majority of those cases.

The federal government will resettle 200 "extremely vulnerable, urgent cases," a news release from Kenney's department said Wednesday. But it will be up to private sponsors to take the remaining 1,100.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says Canada will accept 200 'extremely vulnerable' Syrian refugees and is working with private sponsors to welcome another 1,100 by the end of 2014. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The 1,100 spots for privately sponsored refugees will be above and beyond the current annual limit set for that program, the department said.

Kenney also announced Canada will provide nearly $1 million to send up to five staff members to help resettle displaced Syrians in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, and is speeding up processing for family-class applications from the war-torn country.

Aid organizations estimate the number of Syrians forced by violence to flee their homes will hit two million this summer. Most have gone to Lebanon and Jordan, with the majority settling in urban areas rather than in refugee camps.

"Things are only getting worse, unfortunately," said Faisal al Azem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council. 

He said the resettlements are too slow — that it can be up to two years before refugees arrive in Canada.

Syrian refugee children queue as they wait to receive aid from Turkish humanitarian agencies at Bab al-Salam refugee camp in Syria near the Turkish border last December. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

Refugees fleeing the violence find the camps aren't much of a refuge, al Azem said.

"A lot of people have left, for example, refugee camps in Jordan to go back to Syria and go back to death."

Mike Weickert, World Vision's team leader in Jordan, said some of the Syrians he talks to want to come to Canada — but not all of them.

"Most of the Syrians I've talked to just want to go back home, actually."

The United Nations has called third-country resettlement critical for Syrians forced to leave their homes.

Care Canada said last month that 77 per cent of those who have fled Syria are living in cities where they have little chance to work and earn a living, and World Vision has said about half of the Syrians forced to leave their country are children.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced $115 million in new funding for people in Syria and neighbouring countries dealing with the influx of refugees. Canada had previously announced a three-year package for Jordan worth $100 million to help it cope with the growing refugee population and other issues.

Kenney visited Syrian refugee camps in Turkey earlier this year and said he was deeply moved by the experience.

With files from The Canadian Press