Skip to main content

John McCallum is the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Over many decades, we have welcomed to Canada countless displaced and persecuted people in need of protection, security, and an opportunity to rebuild their lives in our blessed country.

We welcomed 37,000 Hungarian refugees in a single year way back in 1956-57. Under the leadership of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, we welcomed over 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s. We have received thousands of refugees in short order from Uganda, Kosovo and many other places.

So as Canadians heed the call to come together in a great national effort to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees in coming weeks, I have no doubt we will prove up to the task.

Canadians all across the country have been saying we must do more to help Syrian refugees - victims of the worst refugee crisis in decades - especially as winter fast approaches for them once again, and their situation grows ever more perilous.

To respond to this desperate situation, we have formulated a whole-of-government plan, guided by the priority of protecting the safety, security and health of Canadians and refugees, to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada as quickly as possible.

This week, we shared with Canadians the details of our plan, including how we are identifying vulnerable refugees, processing them overseas, transporting them to Canada, welcoming them here, and settling and integrating them into their new communities.

One hundred per cent of these refugees will first set foot in Canada as permanent residents, fully checked for security and health and free to rebuild their lives in Canada. (Read the full plan here)

This will be a national effort requiring significant coordination with, and support from, many domestic and international partners, including the UNHCR, and the governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - the countries where most of the Syrian refugees are currently located.

In working on this plan, I have been heartened by the outpouring of support after speaking to all my provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as more than 30 mayors. I was delighted to discover that the provinces collectively oversubscribed to our target, committing to receive more than 25,000 refugees.

There has been an outpouring of support from Canadians across the land, including the public servants working around the clock.

In the short run, this is a humanitarian act. In the medium term, an influx of Syrian refugees will help to build a stronger Canada, as was the case with earlier waves of refugees. Yes, there will be short-term costs, but there will also be long-term gains.

Those who have come to Canada as refugees in the past - not to mention their descendants - have ended up making tremendous contributions to our society, our cultural life, and our economy.

They include two recent Governors General of Canada - Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean - business leaders such as Peter Munk, cultural innovators such as award-winning author Kim Thuy, several of my colleagues in the House of Commons, including Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, and countless other former refugees who have returned Canada's generosity in ways that defy calculation.

I am proud to be the first federal cabinet minister in Canadian history with the word refugees in my title.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to rename my department Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada speaks to the great importance our government places on Canada's long humanitarian tradition of refugee protection.

It sends the strong message that Canada will continue to welcome refugees, that they are important to building a stronger and better Canada, and that their successful resettlement and integration has been a key part of our country's history.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, I am confident that Canadians will help write a new chapter in that history - one that we will look back upon with great pride in the decades ahead.

Interact with The Globe