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Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) carry an injured man as Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families arrive from the former rebel bastion's main town of Douma at the Abu al-Zindeen checkpoint controlled by Turkish-backed rebel fighters near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, on April 4, 2018.ZEIN AL RIFAI/Getty Images

Members of the White Helmets, a volunteer search-and-rescue force that has been credited with saving lives in Syria, have arrived in Canada with their families nearly five years after the federal government promised to get them out of a Jordanian refugee camp they were unable to leave.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, said Ottawa has admitted “a number” of White Helmets and their families to Canada, and has “now resettled all families that were under Canada’s responsibility.”

“We feel a deep moral responsibility toward these brave and selfless people, and, since the beginning of this initiative, Canada pursued various resettlement options for this group of White Helmets and their families,” he said.

In July 2018, Canadian officials announced their role in leading what they then called Operation White Helmet, an effort by several countries to rescue a group of White Helmets and their family members. Ottawa was celebrated for its role in the initiative.

The White Helmets had won support from Canada and other Western countries for rescuing wounded people from air strikes and collapsed buildings during the Syrian Civil War. But their work in rebel-held areas made them targets of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s Russian-backed regime.

That year, 422 members of 50 White Helmet families were moved through the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and then onward to Jordan, where they were to remain until they could be resettled abroad. This was a result of diplomatic arrangements that officials in Ottawa had helped broker.

While most members of the group were rapidly resettled in Canada, Britain or Europe, more than 40 people remained in limbo for years. In interviews with The Globe and Mail, they said the Canadian government’s security screening processes had made it impossible for them to leave a United Nations-run refugee camp in Jordan.

About half of the group were children, who one of the adults said were being raised in a state of “extreme misery.”

Some evacuees told The Globe they felt like victims of the humanitarian operation.

Canada’s immigration laws make it possible for many kinds of people who are fleeing war zones to be declared inadmissible to the country. Those suspected of ties to militant groups or any efforts to overthrow “any state” can legally be barred from coming to Canada.

But it has never been clear whether concerns like those were behind the delay in this case. The standoff persisted for years, even as Canadian government officials vowed to relocate several of the families. In the fall of 2021, Global Affairs Canada announced it had moved one family to an undisclosed third country.

Nearly five years on, it is not clear how the impasse was resolved. Mr. Blanchard did not offer an explanation for the delay. He did say that Canada has helped rescue several hundred people affiliated with the White Helmets whose lives were at risk.

The Globe previously reported on Global Affairs Canada e-mails from the summer of 2018. The exchanges, released under access-to-information laws, show that Canadian diplomats gave assurances to other countries involved in the evacuation effort. The correspondence said Canadian officials would establish the legitimacy of the White Helmets and take responsibility for the resettlement of all evacuees.

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