Syrian refugees in Canada to hit 10,000 under Liberal plan as Toronto, Montreal flights arrive
More government-assisted refugees have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4 than privately-sponsored ones
Over 10,000 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in Canada by the end of today, marking a milestone for the Liberals who had promised to resettle that many by the end of 2015.
The Liberals originally committed to resettling 25,000 government-assisted refugees by Dec. 31 but lowered the target to 10,000 in November, announcing they would be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees.
They have since promised to resettle another 15,000 Syrians refugees who are "mostly government-assisted" by March 1.
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"Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is optimistic we will reach our target of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next 24 hours," said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the department in an email to CBC News.
"Numbers will be confirmed once refugees arriving on the latest flights have been processed through the Canada Border Services Agency."
With more Syrian refugees arriving every week, the military is beginning to wind down its overseas efforts with approximately 70 Canadian Armed Forces members returning from Lebanon and Jordan where they were helping to process Syrian refugees.
Today also marks the first time the number of government-sponsored refugees surpasses the number of privately sponsored ones since the Liberals were elected.
According to the latest data on the Immigration Department's website, a total of 9,562 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4, when the new government was sworn into office.
Of that, 4,744 are government-assisted refugees, compared to 4,201 who have been privately sponsored. Another 617 have arrived in Canada thanks to a mix of support from the federal government and private sponsors.
Processing was already underway for thousands of these refugees under the previous Conservative government.
An official working in the immigration minister's office told CBC News the government expects to see the number of government-sponsored refugees continue to climb.
The latest numbers do not include the 620 Syrian refugees booked on flights bound for Montreal and Toronto today, confirmed the Department of Immigration in an email to CBC News.
With a snowstorm already underway in Toronto and much of southern Ontario, immigration officials said it's possible some of the flights could be delayed.
Another 5,300 Syrian refugees have had their applications for resettlement finalized but have yet to travel to Canada, according to the government website.
Immigration groups await 2016 plan
There are upwards of 200 applications a week being submitted by private groups looking to sponsor Syrians, said Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigration Settlement Sector Alliance.
But nobody knows how those applications will be treated without knowing the government's overall immigration plan for 2016, he said in an interview with Stephanie Levitz from The Canadian Press.
Ordinarily, the government sets a range of privately sponsored refugees it will accept from around the world each year, but it's unclear whether the Syrian program will be part of that or on top of it.
"I'm assuming the government has a range, a target, as part of the 2016 plan but all of this impacts funding going into the next fiscal year, particularly settlement support, because some regions of the country have significant wait-lists for some or all settlement programming," he said.
The levels plan is contained in the legally mandated annual report on immigration. It lays out how many immigrants in all categories the government anticipates accepting each year.
The report is supposed to be tabled by Nov. 1, but the election delayed its release. The law says that if the House of Commons is not sitting on Nov. 1, the report must be tabled within 30 sitting days after the Commons meets.
It also usually preceded by public consultations as the government seeks input from the private sector and from the provinces on what their capacity and demand is for new residents in a given year.
No public consultations?
This year, consultations don't appear to have taken place.
A spokesman for Ontario's immigration minister told The Canadian Press the 2016 plan did come up in ministers' meetings in December, but there have been no formal talks yet with the federal government.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister John McCallum did not return a request for comment from The Canadian Press.
Opposition immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the complex nature of the plan makes consultation essential. The number of immigrants affects everything from schools to the labour force and consultation is necessary to know what the system can absorb, she said.
"It's surprising that they wouldn't consult but it's not surprising that they're flying by the seat of their pants on the immigration portfolio and I think this is indicative of things to come," she said.
With files from The Canadian Press