The House

Liberals will get to 25,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees in 2016

The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, insists his government will reach its objective of bringing in 25-thousand government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada at some point in 2016, and he wants Canadians to be able to monitor the government's successes and struggles along the way.
Immigration minister John McCallum will release details today about the Liberal government's plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

John McCallum insists the federal government will meet its commitment to resettle 25,000 government assisted refugees by the end of next year.

"We will have a mix [of private sponsored and government assisted refugees] in the first tranche, but we will certainly adhere to our 25,000 government refugees commitment over the course of 2016," the immigration and refugees minister said in an interview with host Chris Hall on The House.

That first wave of 25,000 refugees is expected to be completed by the end of February and will mostly include private sponsored refugees because "those people had already been approached," said McCallum.

"We don't want to slow down the arrival of privately sponsored people. It's easy, in a way, to bring in the private ones because they automatically have some place to go," he said.

Ahead of this weekend's meeting in Toronto between federal and provincial immigration ministers and settlement agencies, McCallum admitted securing housing for the expected influx of refugees is a challenge.

"They will arrive in Montreal or Toronto and will then fan out to 30 plus cities across the country," he said. "I think the challenge is that all of those accommodations will not necessarily be immediately in place. That's why we're having the meeting this weekend and why we're working so closely with our provincial and municipal counterparts and with the settlement groups to ensure those places are ready."

The government will also have temporary accommodation on military bases available, he added.

"But hopefully we'll need those very little."

No timeline for when refugees will arrive

The Immigration Minister was frank about other challenges he's faced while tackling his portfolio's major — and most time-sensitive — file.

"What I want to do is be clear and transparent, and take the 35 million Canadians along with us on the voyage and let them see the good things and also let them see the challenges," he said.

"One of the challenges is we don't yet have all the exit visas for all the people."

As of Nov. 24, McCallum said Canada has so far issued 928 permanent resident visas to Syrian refugees — but there is still no timeline for when they could start arriving.

McCallum blamed red tape overseas for the delays.

"Not all of them yet have exit visas from Lebanon, and we are working really, really hard to expedite that so they can get those exit visas as soon as possible," he said.

McCallum also said the first group of new refugees will be flown to Canada on a military plane — although the date for that flight has yet to be set because of the lack of exit visas.

"That will be followed by further flights that will be leased," he added. 

The government also intends to launch a website that will provide regular updates on the progress and delays for the Canadian population, McCallum said.

"This is a national project, we want to inform Canadians as much as we can on our successes and our challenges," he said.