Syrian Refugees: Overseas Operations Wind Down As Government Approaches Target

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OTTAWA — Overseas operations launched last year as part of the Liberal government's Syrian refugee resettlement program are winding down as the target date nears for the resettlement of 25,000 people.

The processing centre for security, health and identification checks in Turkey has now closed, one in Lebanon closes this week and the one in Jordan is not far behind as officials expect 25,000 Syrians to be in Canada by Monday.

"The last few months have been something unique and totally different from anything the government has ever done,'' Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

"And so now it will be more, after the end of the month, still a very quick pace but nothing like the speed of what we've done.''

However, the Immigration Department has not yet officially told the Canadian military to take down the preparations they've made to potentially house thousands of refugees at bases in Quebec and Ontario while they await permanent housing.

harjit sajjan refugees
Harjit Sajjan chats with members of a Syrian refugee family being interviewed at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 29, 2015. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"We continue to stand by, if needed,'' said Evan Koronewski, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence.

Finding both temporary and permanent housing for the 23,000 Syrians who have landed in Canada as of late Tuesday has been the most immediate challenge for the Liberals' resettlement program.

The potential that some would be housed briefly at military bases was part of the program when it was rolled out last fall, and six were designated at sites for that purpose.

While just a few weeks ago, officials had been near-certain they'd have to use at least two, they stepped up efforts to find enough hotels rather than have to use the bases.

More are moving out of hotels

Over the weekend, hundreds of people were moved out of hotels in Toronto and Montreal where they'd been staying for weeks as the federal government managed to find space in their eventual destination cities.

More cities have also been designated as reception centres for government-assisted refugees.

On Wednesday, the government announced Leamington, Ont., Peterborough, Ont., and Brooks, Alta. will all now receive government funding in order to assist Syrians to settle in those three centres, bringing the total number of cities taking in government-assisted refugees to 27.

"It's normal that it doesn't happen overnight.''

About 52 per cent of the refugees who've arrived to date in total have found permanent housing.

"It's normal that it doesn't happen overnight,'' McCallum said of the move into permanent homes, adding he is "almost certain'' military bases will not end up being used.

One benefit of not needing to use them is that it will save money, McCallum said. The government has budgeted $678 million for the resettlement program.

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