The Liberal government has failed to deliver its promise to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 but says it will only need a few more weeks to reach that target by the middle of January.
Canada’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum announced Thursday that just over 6,000 refugees, most of them privately sponsored, will have arrived in Canada by the end of the day on Dec. 31. That’s far short of his party’s election pledge to bring in 25,000 government sponsored refugees before the New Year and also well shy of the revised goal of 10,000, set in early December when it became clear the first promise was unrealistic.
But Mr. McCallum said the exact timing was less important than the ultimate result. “I think it’s up to Canadians to decide if this two-week delay is a matter of utmost importance or whether we should instead focus on welcoming these wonderful new Canadians.
“I would say we largely met our promises,” the minister added. “We identified 25,000 as committed. We have fully processed over 10,000 by the end of the year, as promised. We will certainly deliver 25,000 refugees by the end of February. The only discrepancy is a delay of two weeks in welcoming the first 10,000 refugees to our shores.”
Mr. McCallum also said that over the next year Canada will welcome between 29,000 and 44,000 Syrian refugees, for a total of 35,000 to 50,000 since the Liberal government took office. Other countries in Europe have welcomed more refugees, but Canada is the only one undertaking such a large airlift, he said.
Canada’s effort comes as Europe is in the midst of its biggest migration crisis since the Second World War, according to the United Nations. The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is likely to have surpassed 60 million this year, mainly driven by the war in Syria and other long-term conflicts, the UN has said.
The International Organization for Migration released figures Thursday showing that more migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015 than ever before recorded.
More than 3,770 migrants died trying to reach Europe, according to IOM estimates, a large portion of the 5,350 migrants who died around the world.
Speaking at a press conference at Toronto’s Pearson Airport Thursday, Mr. McCallum described the Syrian refugee crisis as one of the greatest humanitarian challenges in decades, and said Canada’s response has drawn attention from around the world. He contrasted the Canadian approach, which saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcoming refugees at the airport, with the anti-immigrant rhetoric of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Although Canada’s targets haven’t been met, Mr. McCallum pointed to other measures that he said were proof of the success of the government’s efforts on the Syrian refugee file. He said 10,700 refugees have been fully processed through all screening stages, and more than 25,000 refugees have now been identified for possible selection by Canada. He added that he is confident that the full 10,000 will arrive by mid-January.
He said that, in his view, when the history of this period is written it will not dwell on the delay of a few weeks to meet an intermediate goal, but on the effort to bring in a large number of people in a short period of time. “I think we can be proud of our achievements,” Mr. McCallum said. “We want to do this fast, and we are doing this faster than [at] any time in Canadian history, but we also want to do it well.”
Mr. McCallum and his colleague Health Minister Jane Philpott cited the “human element” as one reason for the delay in reaching the target figures. Many families were not prepared to travel to Canada on just a few days notice, they said. Ms. Philpott also noted that there have been no public-health risks reported as a result of the Syrian arrivals.
The Liberals promised in the election to bring in 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees before the New Year. That goal was quickly revised once they took office. They then pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees before the New Year, but with only a relatively modest target of 2,000 to be sponsored by government, while the rest would be sponsored privately. In the end, just 1,849 government-sponsored refugees arrived after November, 2015. As recently as last week Mr. McCallum said the goal of 10,000 refugees would be met.
Mr. McCallum said the government is still committed to bringing in 25,000 government-assisted refugees, the vast majority of whom will arrive in 2016. He said the target for overall Syrian refugee migration for the 14 months to the end of 2016 would be between 35,000 and 50,000, although parts of that plan are still subject to cabinet approval.
Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Liberals have clearly broken an important election promise that they knew they could never meet.
“I think they took advantage of a horrendous and heartbreaking situation by pulling that number out of thin air. I think they knew they couldn’t meet that but it was a way to win the election. I do question [their] motive. It’s very clear they didn’t even come close to meeting their targets,” Ms. Rempel said.
The NDP also sharply criticized the Liberal government’s missed targets.
“Not only did this minister irrefutably fail to live up to the promise Liberals made to Canadians in the last election but he even failed to meet his own lowered expectations,” Immigration critic Jenny Kwan declared in a statement.
“In the last election Canadians voted for change to help rebuild the damage done to our international reputation. I hope for the sake of that reputation this kind of mishandling does not become a pattern.”
With a report from ReutersReport Typo/Error