Politics

Syrian refugees booked on 1st flights to Canada total 305

More than 300 Syrian refugees have been booked on flights to Canada from camps in the Middle East, Canadian government officials say. The first planes are set to arrive at two of the country's busiest airports late next week.

271 Syrian refugees have already arrived in Canada, and 305 will arrive next week

Immigration Minister John McCallum chats with members of a Syrian refugee family being interviewed by authorities at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

More than 300 Syrian refugees have been booked on flights to Canada from camps in the Middle East, Canadian government officials say.

Today's news comes as the first planes carrying refugees are set to arrive at two of the country's busiest airports late next week.

Immigration Minister John McCallum announced that government officials will brief journalists once a week in an effort to keep Canadians informed on the plan to resettle 10,000 refugees by year's end and another 15,000 refugees by March 1, 2016.

McCallum said on Tuesday that Canadians could welcome even more refugees next year, bringing the total number of Syrians resettled in Canada as high as 50,000.

"We will have an unknown number of additional private [sponsored refugees]," said McCallum, "and so my guess, it will probably be in the range of 35,000-50,000."

A total of 271 Syrian refugees have already arrived in Canada since Nov. 4, said officials in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The majority — 208 Syrian refugees — are privately sponsored refugees, 52 are being resettled by the government and 11 are here thanks to a mix of the two.

This is in addition to the 3,089 Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada from Jan. 1 to Nov. 3.

The government's plan to resettle 25,000 refugees will be implemented in five phases at a cost of up to $378 million over six years.

The five phases are:

  1. Identifying Syrian refugees who want to come to Canada.
  2. Processing, screening and selecting refugees overseas.
  3. Arranging for their travel to Canada.
  4. Welcoming and screening refugees upon their arrival in Canada.
  5. Ensuring their long-term resettlement and integration into society.

Priority for those who pose 'low security risk'

Canada has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to give priority to refugees who pose a "low security risk" such as complete families, women at risk, gays and lesbians, and single men identified as vulnerable due to membership in the LGBT community or those who are accompanying parents as part of a family.

To help fast-track the applications, the government is deploying some 441 staff to two dedicated visa offices in Jordan and Lebanon, where the UN refugee agency has been contacting potential applicants in camps by text message and by phone.

The process is similar in Turkey, but it's the government — not the UN — that is responsible for directly communicating directly with and registering Syrian refugees.

Security screening includes verifying the identity of refugees who have expressed interest in coming to Canada against their photo registration cards and iris scans.

The Canada Border Services Agency will also screen the refugees prior to their departure for Canada and upon arrival.

To date, some 1,015 refugees have received permanent resident visas to come to Canada but have yet to arrive.

Here are the latest numbers, last updated at the end of November, provided by the government on Wednesday:

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum discusses the resettlement of refugees and the search for adequate housing for thousands of Syrians 8:43

By the numbers:

In Canada

271 — Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4

  • 208 — Syrian refugees who have arrived through private sponsors 
  • 52  — Syrian refugees who have arrived through government sponsorship.
  • 11 — Syrian refugees who have arrived through a blended government-private process.
  • 65 — Communities across the country (not including Quebec) that are preparing to resettle refugees over the long term.
  • 36 — Cities across the country, 13 in Quebec and 23 in the rest of Canada, that will initially welcome Syrian refugees even if on a temporary basis.

In progress

  • 9,090  — Syrian refugee resettlements applications that are currently in progress.
  • 36 per cent — Syrian refugees under the age 18.
  • 1,015 — Syrian refugees that have been issued permanent residency visas to come to Canada, but have not yet arrived.

UN refugee agency contacts

  • 41,050 — text messages sent by the UN refugee agency to potential applicants to see if they are interested in coming to Canada.
  • 33,218 — text messages sent by the UN refugee agency to refugees in Jordan 
  • 7,832 — text messages by the UN refugee agency to refugees in Lebanon.
  • 28,560 — Syrian refugees contacted by the UN refugee agency over the phone.
  • 3,049 — Syrian refugees that showed up for interviews after being contacted by the UN refugee agency.
  • 1,801 — Syrian refugees referred by the UN refugee agency to Canadian immigration officials for resettlement.
  • 1,216 — Syrian refugees referred from Jordan.
  • 585 — Syrian refugees referred from Lebanon.

Identifying Syrian refugees who want to come to Canada has proven to be somewhat of a challenge.

Out of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees contacted by the UN refugee agency by text and by phone, a little over 3,000 refugees showed up for interviews.

While some contact information will inevitably be out of date, government officials in Ottawa said some Syrian refugees are simply finding it difficult to leave their friends and family behind.

The government will update the latest figures on an ongoing basis.

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