Syrian refugee caseworkers added, but Ottawa can't say how many

The Immigration Department says it cannot say how many Canadian officials are on the ground to process Syrian refugees overseas. Conservative politicians say they don't know exactly and refer reporters to the ministry.

Politicians and Immigration Department vague on repeated questions about number of overseas visa officers

A Syrian refugee child who fled from violence in the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud, poses for a photograph at the border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, in March 2014. (Hassan Abdallah/Reuters)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) appears unable to disclose how many visa officers are on the ground in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to process Syrian refugees, despite repeated inquiries from CBC News.

"CIC moves work around the immigration network depending on where we have available resources and where files can be processes most quickly. It is difficult to say how many visa officers are processing refugee files at any given time," says a departmental media relations officer in an email to CBC News.

It's the exact same response a number of reporters received to the question over the past week.

One source who has worked at the department told CBC News the answer is "ridiculous" because the department would "of course" know where its visa officials are stationed and what countries they might be moving to or from.

Conservative politicians continue to argue the government has already put more people on the ground, but are not able to say how many.

Conservative MP and Markham-Stouffville candidate Paul Calandra said on CBC's Power & Politics last week that the government has sent more visa officers to the region over the past year.

"There's 50 per cent more caseworkers on the ground doing this work," he said.

But Calandra could not give a number as to what that increase meant. 

"Well look, I don't have that," he said.

Calandra could not explain what such an increase actually means — if there had been 10 visa officers and now there are 15, or if there had been two and that has increased to three.

Processing centralized

And on Saturday, when Minister of International Development Christian Paradis announced the creation of an emergency relief fund for Syrian crisis victims, he too said the government is deploying more resources to make sure the region has "more people on the ground to make sure the process is accelerated."

But when asked how many and where they are posted, he directed reporters back to Citizenship and Immigration.

"You would have to direct your question to the Immigration Department. They will probably … be able to give you more numbers on this," Paradis said.

While the department has no specific answer about the numbers involved, it does point out that it has reallocated resources and centralized processing of applications in Winnipeg "to alleviate the burden at visa offices overseas."

Citizenship and Immigration argues this has sped up processing, but critics argue it has done the opposite.

The department also says it can't answer how many visa officers are in Winnipeg.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has promised an announcement is coming soon on new measures to speed up the resettlement of refugees in Canada, but neither he nor the party would specify when that might be.

Canada has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Canada over the next three years. So far it has brought in a little more than 2,300 over the past two years.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?