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Canada Military’s overseas efforts for Syrian refugee program winding down

Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan chats with members of a Syrian refugee family at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 29, 2015.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The military is beginning to wind down its overseas involvement in the Liberal government's commitment to resettling thousands of Syrian refugees in a matter of months.

Approximately 70 Canadian Armed Forces members have returned from Jordan and Lebanon, where they were part of a broader government effort to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of next month.

"All it takes is seeing one little one the same age as my daughter — smiling because they are going to Canada," said Maj. Drew Willis, who was among 68 soldiers who arrived to waiting family members early Tuesday at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.

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About 150 soldiers remain overseas helping process applications and conduct medical tests on the thousands of Syrians who are still passing through the screening process.

The Defence Department says the decision to bring some personnel home was made in consultation with the Immigration Department in anticipation of the completion of the program.

"Operation Provision has been a tremendous opportunity to showcase leadership and Canadian values on the world stage and we will continue to stand in support of this whole-of-government effort, ready to assist wherever and however we are needed," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement Tuesday.

Where the military is going to be needed next is at home.

Thousands of Syrians landing in the coming days are expected to be billeted at military bases as cities and towns across the country are still busy securing housing for the new arrivals.

Space is available for 6,000 people at various bases and facilities throughout Ontario and Quebec, with an additional 7,000 spots also in reserve if needed, the Forces say on their website.

Canadian Forces Bases Valcartier, Kingston and Borden are expected to be the first three put into use as early as this week.

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Tuesday was expected to be the day that the 10,000th Syrian refugee arrives in Canada, a milestone moment for a Liberal program that's changed shape and focus several times since a commitment to resettling 25,000 Syrians was first made by the party in March.

First, it was that those 25,000 would be entirely assisted by government and be in Canada by the end of the last year. Then in November, the program was split into two parts — 10,000, mostly privately sponsored refugees would be brought in by the end of last year and a further 15,000, mostly government-assisted, would arrive by the end of February.

Of the 9,562 refugees who had arrived by Jan. 10, about half have private sponsors and the other half are government-assisted.

Three government-organized flights of refugees were scheduled to arrive Tuesday, one in Montreal and two in Toronto, taking the number of arrivals to just over 10,000. The Immigration Department could not confirm the arrivals late Tuesday afternoon.

The Liberals have said they still intend to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada under government sponsorship, but that will take until the end of 2016.

With files from Keith Bisset

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