The first government airlift of Syrian refugees who have been given the opportunity to start new lives in Canada will arrive in Toronto on Thursday evening, with a second flight to follow two days later, that one landing in Montreal.
Both of the aircraft will carry about 150 of the estimated nine million people who have been displaced from their homeland by civil war and the acts of terrorists.
Most of the initial arrivals will come from Lebanon. And if the Liberal government's plans unfold as expected, tens of thousands of others will land in the coming weeks after being vetted in Turkey and Jordan, as well as Beirut.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally announced the timing of first refugee flights during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday. "Resettling refugees demonstrates our commitment to Canadians and to the world that Canada understands that we can and must do more," Mr. Trudeau said.
The first flights will be in military aircraft, but the government intends to use commercial charters in the future to transport most of the refugees it has approved to become permanent residents from the Middle East. All will arrive in Toronto or Montreal before travelling to the communities where they will settle.
Immigration Minister John McCallum told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day that 11,932 applications from refugees who want to come to Canada are currently being processed in the Middle East, and that 1,451 permanent resident visas have been issued.
At the moment, Canadian officials are working their way through about 400 applications each day in Jordan and Lebanon, he said. "This is a pretty good clip, and I think it is a good sign for us in terms of getting the job done," Mr. McCallum said.
Getting people out of Turkey has been more difficult because of the recent election in that country, but a few refugees were processed there on Wednesday, and Canadian officials said they expect the numbers will increase significantly in the coming days and weeks.
Fewer than 500 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada between Nov. 4 and the end of last week, but Mr. McCallum said he still hopes the government can keep its promise to accept 10,000 – most of them privately sponsored – by the end of the year.
The number of refugees who have indicated they are interested in speaking with Canadian immigration officials about coming to Canada has picked up significantly, jumping to 8,554 by the end of last week from 1,801 the week before.
Immigration officials previously indicated many of the displaced Syrians were reluctant to travel halfway around the world, and start their lives over in this country.
But the officials who spoke to reporters on background on Wednesday said they will have no trouble finding the 25,000 people the Liberal government promised to bring here by February.
Some of the refugees will have difficulty making a quick move – they may have to sell property or get other family members out of Syria before they can to pull up stakes in the Middle East, the bureaucrats said. But large numbers of people are still looking to Canada for refuge.
Mr. McCallum said resettlement-assistance organizations in 23 cities – in all provinces except Quebec, which operates under a separate accord with the federal government – will share an additional $3.6-million, an increase of 25 per cent in their usual federal funding, to help ease the transition of the arriving Syrians.
The refugees will be eligible for the basic provincial health coverage that is provided to all Canadians plus supplements for drug coverage, eyeglasses, dentistry and other medical needs that are available to Canadians on social assistance.
"I do think a large majority of Canadians want to welcome these people coming from the scourge of civil war to our country, make them feel comfortable, help them adjust and hope that they will get jobs as soon as possible," Mr. McCallum said. "Here we have 25,000 human beings caught in the scourge of a vicious civil war and terrorist attacks by [the Islamic State]. And we are bringing these people from the horrible world in which they live over to our wonderful country."