The head of the International Organization for Migration praised Canada's welcoming stance toward refugees at a time of growing xenophobia in Europe and the United States, as he offered new details about the Liberal government's plan to airlift thousands of Syrian asylum-seekers into the country in the coming months.
In Ottawa for meetings with top immigration officials on Tuesday, IOM director-general William Lacy Swing applauded the government's pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.
"It's an important humanitarian act," he said. "It reflects a lot of political courage and leadership and vision."
After meeting with Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum on Tuesday, Mr. Swing said he was "very encouraged."
The IOM and Mr. McCallum's department are working closely on processing refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The IOM will start processing refugees for Canada in Turkey in a matter of days.
Chartered flights of Syrian refugees from the region to Canada could begin as early as next week, Mr. Swing added.
Asked if Canada could bring in more refugees than its current allotment, the diplomatic veteran said, "That's a judgment call the government will have to make."
As he lauded Canada's role, Mr. Swing decried the growing anti-immigrant feeling that has flared up across much of the West, fuelling the candidacy of Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump in the United States and helping France's far-right National Front party surge in regional elections on Sunday.
"We are in a period of unprecedented human mobility," he said. "We are also in a period of unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment."
Mr. Swing said fear of outsiders has been sharpened by terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; by anxiety around jobs and the economy since the 2008 financial crisis; and by a desire to hold onto national identities in a globalized world.
More recently, the Paris terror attacks have unfairly made Syrian refugees a target, he said.
"It would be most unfortunate if this horrible tragedy in Paris led to the victimization of migrants and refugees," Mr. Swing said. "After all, here are people fleeing the very terrorists that others are talking about."
In response to Mr. Trump's proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the United States – made in the wake of the Islamic terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last week – Mr. Swing obliquely denounced his fellow countryman.
"We cannot start judging people on the basis on their religion or ethnicity," he said.
Amidst a global mood of foreboding and suspicion toward refugees, Mr. Swing said he hoped Canada's policy would encourage others into greater generosity.
"I think this is a good signal that the new government is sending."
Although details about how the refugees will be resettled in Canada remain murky, Mr. Swing sounded an optimistic note about the country's prospects for accommodating the newcomers.
"I can think of very few countries that have a more pronounced policy of integration," he said. "You have a record of being able to integrate people from all over the world."
Mr. Swing pointed to cultural education and language training as key parts of the Canadian settlement strategy.
"I think you've got a formula for success now, and it's just a matter of putting it into action, and I'm sure you will."