Syrian refugees have 3 days to pack for a new life in Canada
Government confident will meet deadline of 10,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31, McCallum says
A set of house keys and a handful of photos are all the mementos the Qablan family are packing as they prepare to leave Amman, Jordan, later this week to begin a new life in Canada.
Mohamed Qablan says he doesn't want to bring too much from his old life in Syria, but he does want his three boys to have a few reminders of where they came from.
"We're not taking a lot, just a few things so we can have a few memories," he said.
Qablan, 36, along with his wife, Dalia, and their boys, aged 11 years to two months old, received a phone call on Monday morning, informing them that they were selected to resettle to Canada. Their flight is scheduled to leave Thursday for Toronto.
"The news spread through our house like a fire! My children are so excited," Qablan told CBC News. "We were waiting and we hadn't heard, but when they called and surprised me, I was so excited and so happy."
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With 10 days remaining to meet the Liberal government's self-imposed deadline of bringing the first 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, there's still a long way to go.
Ottawa says 1,409 Syrians have been resettled, according the latest figures from December 19.
Charter flights have been moving Syrian refugees to Toronto and Montreal from both Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan, where Canadian officials report they're making good progress on processing hundreds of cases a day.
But a shaky security situation in southern Turkey has slowed Canada's efforts to resettle Syrians sheltering there, despite the fact that Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees, approximately 2.2 million.
'Very confident' of deadline, minister says
At this point, it remains unclear when the first Syrians will depart for Canada from Turkey.
Immigration minister John McCallum spent the past weekend in Jordan and Lebanon, assessing Canada's efforts and meeting Syrians who have been selected for resettlement.
"I'm very confident that we will hit the 25,000 deadline," McCallum said of the government's overall commitment to bring that many in by March.
"I'm reasonably confident, we're working very hard with all of our people here, to also meet the 10,000 deadline" by Dec. 31.
One of the issues that has slowed down the resettlement effort is the tight time frame given to many Syrians to pack up their lives and move to a new country.
Some refugees have told CBC News they've only been given two or three days' notice.
"They might have to sell some assets, they might have to say goodbye to their families. They might prefer to come in five days. And we cannot tell them, 'No you cannot …,'" McCallum said in an interview from Amman.
Other kinks in the processing system appear to have been worked out, including some delays caused by the sheer numbers of Syrians who have to undergo medical tests before permanent resident visas could be issued.
Canadian Forces personnel on the ground in the Middle East are helping accelerate those screenings.
Additional Canadian consular and other support staff have been deployed to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to help with the processing and logistics of moving the refugees to Canada.
A Canadian official estimates 400 extra staff are currently working in the Middle East.
McCallum's trip was also a chance to thank these officials for their work over the Christmas holidays, as most will remain in the region for the next few weeks.
"It's truly heartwarming and moving to see this. There are many Canadians here who have never missed a Christmas at home," McCallum said.
Mohamed Qabalan isn't sure what to expect when his family arrives in Toronto on Thursday, Christmas Eve.
"We don't know much about Canada. But I told my children there will be a safe place there for you to pray and to go to school. And they are happy about that."