Flights to Canada for Syrian refugees to start Dec. 10, document says

The first planes carrying Syrians from overseas refugee camps are expected to arrive at two of Canada's busiest airports late next week.

Federal government looking for Canadian air carriers to fly Syrian refugees at a discount

Mjdi Mnaahe, his wife Wessam and their sons Tamim, 6, Saif, 4 and Mohammad, 1, sit in their apartment Monday, November 30, 2015 in Irbid, Jordan. The Syrian refugee family hopes to come to Canada. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The first planes carrying Syrian refugees from camps overseas are expected to arrive at two of Canada's busiest airports late next week.

A federal solicitation document posted Monday names Dec. 10 as the date when the first flights are planned to carry refugees from camps in Jordan and Turkey to Canadian soil.

The document says those flights could continue until the end of March.

The federal government plans on bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February, with 10,000 of them arriving by the end of this month.

The first group will be made up largely of privately sponsored refugees, many of whose files have been in the works for months as churches and other community groups moved to assist some of the most vulnerable people fleeing the Syrian civil war.

The plan is bring those refugees into Canada on commercial flights, with military airplanes available every 48 hours if necessary in case commercial jets aren't available.

Seeking Canadian air carriers to offer 'discounts'

The solicitation document posted Monday asks for interested air carriers to get in touch with the government by Dec.4, with the deadline landing six days before the first flights are supposed to leave from one of two cities in Turkey — Adana and Gaziantep, which is about 100 kilometres north of the Syrian city of Aleppo — and from Amman, Jordan.

The government is not only looking for air carriers to fly Syrian refugees from camps abroad to Canada, but it is also looking for chartered aircrafts to carry the refugees to other cities across the country once they have landed in Toronto and Montreal.

According to the document posted online, the government is seeking Canadian air carriers "interested to offer discounts on commercial flights to transport refugees to their assigned communities."

The flights will land at either Toronto's Pearson airport or Montreal's Trudeau airport and continue until at least Feb. 29, 2016, "but may be required later."

Each aircraft has to seat at least 200 and fly direct between the locations.

The document says the number of people on each flight will vary and the exact schedule, including days and times for flights, haven't been set in stone.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum would not confirm when the first flights carrying Syrian refugees are set to arrive in Canada, saying only it would likely be next week.

"I do not have a confirmed date at this time," said McCallum on Tuesday, "but you ask me, is it likely next week, and I would say, it's quite likely."

Approximately 15,000 of the 25,000 Syrian refugees who will arrive in Canada in the coming weeks are being resettled by the federal government. They will go to dozens of municipalities across the country.

The federal government estimates it will cost $678 million over the next six years to bring the refugees to Canada and help them settle. That figure doesn't include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories.

More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Since the outbreak of the war there in 2011, the UN estimates some 4.2 million people have been displaced.

With files from CBC's Susana Mas


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