John McCallum Says It's 'Crazy' To Think Refugees Don't Want To Come To Canada

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MONTREAL — The idea that there are many refugees who don't want to come to Canada is "crazy" said federal Immigration Minister John McCallum on Thursday, in response to reports that only a small percentage of Syrian refugees were interested in relocating to this country.

john mccallum
John McCallum speaks to the media during a news conference in Montreal, Thursday, Dec.3, 2015. (CP/Graham Hughes)

McCallum just returned from visiting a refugee camp in Jordan, where he said there is "huge enthusiasm — a great hunger to come to Canada."

He was responding to questions about comments his own immigration officials made on Wednesday, which were reported by several Canadian news organizations.

The officials reportedly said during an off-the-record briefing with reporters that fewer than five per cent of people contacted by the United Nations wanted to come to Canada by the end of December.

"The idea that they don't want to come to Canada is crazy."

McCallum suggested there might have been technical problems contacting people in camps, and that some refugees might want to stay out of hope the situation in Syria would improve and they could move back home.

"But there are a huge number of people who want to come," he said. "Look at how many went to Germany — almost a million! — The idea that they don't want to come to Canada is crazy."

In Montreal to finalize refugee plans

McCallum was in Montreal Thursday for a meeting with Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil and about a dozen refugee, church and community groups working on the logistics of bringing refugees to the province.

Weil wouldn't get into details of how the province will coordinate the settling of more than 2,000 refugees who are expected to arrive by plane into Montreal by the end of the year.

Quebec has set aside $29 million until the end of 2016 to settle over 7,000 refugees.

She said the money is enough to cover foreseeable costs, adding the federal government said it would help pay for any surprises.

"Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said the federal government would be there with respect to additional costs," she said.

McCallum said that after meeting with the provincial stakeholders he is convinced "Quebec is ready," adding 13 of the 36 Canadian cities planning to welcome refugees are in Quebec.

He also called on individuals and companies to do what they can to help the country settle the 25,000 Syrians the Liberal government has committed to welcoming by the end of February.

Ottawa says the refugee program will cost $687 million.

McCallum said CN Rail has pledged a yet-undisclosed amount of money to help settle refugees.

"We hope CN is the first of many companies who will help," he said.

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