TORONTO — Two more weeks — that's how long the Liberals say it will take to get 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, a goal the government was hoping to have met by midnight Thursday.
But they urged Canadians not to focus on the missed deadlines and targets for the Syrian refugee resettlement program and instead focus on what the government has managed to achieve — bringing just over 6,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in a matter of weeks, a historical program they say makes Canada a world leader.
Immigration Minister John McCallum said 25,000 Syrian refugees have been identified, as promised, more than 10,000 applications have been full processed, as promised, and the 25,000 Syrians the government committed to bringing to Canada by the end of February will arrive on schedule.
"The only discrepancy is the delay of two weeks in welcoming the first 10,000 refugees to our shores,'' he said.
"So I think it is up to Canadians to decide whether this two week delay is a matter of utmost importance or whether we should instead focus on welcoming these wonderful new Canadians to our shores.''
Justin Trudeau greets 16-month-old Madeleine Jamkossian, second from right, and her father Kevork Jamkossian, refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war as they arrive at Pearson International airport, in Mississauga on Dec. 11, 2015. (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
The Liberals promised last March to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada and incorporated the pledge into their election platform, saying all it would take is "political will'' to resettle them by the end of the year.
But the reality of rolling out that promise has proven it takes more than that and the Liberals have amended their plan several times.
In November, they said they would resettle 10,000 privately-sponsored refugees by Dec. 31 and a further 15,000 government-assisted refugees by March 1, 2016.
The 25,000 the government committed to resettling itself are to be in Canada by the end of 2016.
McCallum said the reason all 10,000 were not in Canada by Thursday was a combination of Syrians not willing to leave their current homes as fast the Canadian government is asking them to and the fact that it took time to spool up the massive government program.
Governor General David Johnston gestures to suggest 'rest' as a family Syrian refugees tell him they had been travelling for two days upon their at the Welcome Centre at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Dec. 18, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Previously, the difficulties posed by winter weather, the challenge in getting the governments of Lebanon and Turkey to assist with exit visas and other requirements and a slow start to medical screenings were also given as reasons the program took longer to get running than anticipated.
But Health Minister Jane Philpott said without the ambitious targets, nothing would have happened.
"This is something that we will look back at and not be talking about the timelines a decade from now but be talking about the amazing new Syrian Canadians who have become part of our community,'' she said.
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