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Syrian refugees to start arriving in Canada next week

Civilian employee Lisa Goodsell cleans one of the barracks Monday at CFB Kingston that will house Syrian refugees.


Planeloads of Syrian refugees are expected to begin landing in Canada next week as Justin Trudeau's Liberal government scrambles to fulfill an election pledge to bring 25,000 new asylum seekers here by year end.

As many as 900 to 1,000 per day will land at airports in Toronto and Montreal for the next few weeks, arriving on flights arranged by Ottawa.

Chris Friesen, who heads the settlement programs for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., says he expects government-assisted refugees will first head to military bases in Ontario and Quebec. They will likely stay there for a number of weeks before being redistributed across the country to 36 refugee service hubs that provide resettlement assistance.

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Mr. Friesen said he expects privately sponsored refugees, on the other hand, will be quickly routed to communities where groups and individuals are covering the cost of their first year in Canada.

It's anticipated the Red Cross will play a key role in managing the logistics of refugees staying on Canadian military bases.

The federal government will announce details of its Syrian refugee resettlement plan after a cabinet meeting Tuesday, including the exact timeline for their arrival, how they will be accommodated across the country and the long-term costs.

One of the biggest critics of a rapid mass intake of Syrians is scaling back his concern after meeting with the Trudeau government Monday.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall toned down his criticism of Ottawa's plans after federal officials provided an overview to provincial officials.

"There have been a number of concerns addressed," said Mr. Wall, who had urged the government to slow down the pace of the refugees' arrival to ensure proper screening.

Federal officials have insisted the security risks linked to the operation are minimal, with the government expected to focus on welcoming the most vulnerable of refugees, namely children and families. There is also pressure on the government to accept gay men or members of religious minorities, who face persecution in their homeland.

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Refugee advocates will be watching to see whether the Trudeau government manages to bring 25,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by year end, as promised, or whether a significant portion of the newcomers are privately sponsored asylum seekers and fulfilment of the campaign pledge drags into 2016.

Speaking ahead of a first ministers' meeting in Ottawa, Mr. Wall said he agreed with the federal government's desire to focus mostly on welcoming children and families, stating that was "the right priority."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said a preparatory meeting among provincial leaders showed that everyone was on board to make the project work.

"There was no one sitting at the premiers' table that is not interested in seeing refugees come and seeing them set up for success. So that was very heartening," she told reporters.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he expects Ottawa to pick up a significant portion of the tab, after the federal Liberals promised to dramatically boost the number of arrivals during last month's election campaign.

"We'll pay for the first 3,600 [refugees who come into Quebec]," he said. "For additional refugees, we expect that the money will be provided."

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Sources in the Middle East told The Globe and Mail that they expected the largest share of the refugees resettled to Canada would be drawn from those currently settled in Lebanon and Jordan. However, basic steps, such as booking charter flights to get the refugees out of the Middle East, hadn't been taken yet.

"We are still waiting for the official announcement from the government of Canada," said a source at the International Organization for Migration who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person didn't have permission to speak to media. "In fact we haven't made any flight arrangements. We're waiting on the Canadian side."

Andrew Harper, the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Jordan, said details were still being confirmed, but he understood the Canadian plan would focus on those refugees currently living in urban settings in Amman, Beirut and other cities, rather than those under the UNHCR's protection in formal camps like Zaatari in Jordan.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said last week that federal officials would conduct database checks and biometrics tests to verify the ID of all refugees, in addition to submitting them to interviews. To do the task quickly, some officials from other agencies, including border guards, are being seconded to the operation.

With reports from Mark MacKinnon in London and Samya Kullab in Beirut

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