Syrian Refugee Program May Cost Taxpayers Up To $1 Billion

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OTTAWA — The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion.

Tuesday's federal budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 government assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.

That's on top of $678 million over six years set aside by the Liberals in November when they rolled out a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians in total by the end of last month.

The actual current estimate for the program is higher.

Recently tabled government documents peg it at $698 million, which the Immigration Department says takes into account the full $100 million the Liberals have committed to the UN for its role in getting Syrians safe haven in Canada, and elsewhere.

The original budget only accounted for $10 million of that contribution.

As of March 20, 26, 202 Syrians have arrived in Canada since the Liberals took power in November.

The new money for Syrians is on top of other new funding for immigration, including $56 million over three years to support the government's commitment to increased immigration levels overall.

The money will support settlement programs, included language training, which is in high demand among Syrian refugees and other new arrivals. Wait times in some areas are over a year.

“We believe families belong together.”
— Bill Morneau, Finance Minister

The Liberals are aiming to welcome around 300,000 new permanent residents this year, including 80,000 people in the so-called family class stream, up from last year's target of 68,000. The family class program is designed to reunite families in Canada.

Spending on the program was just over $30 million in 2014-2015; the Liberals are adding a further $25 million this year, following up a campaign commitment to nearly double the program budget.

"We believe families belong together,'' Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in his budget speech. "Family reunification contributes to the well-being of all Canadians by contributing to our collective wealth, in both sociocultural and economic terms.''

canada refugees
A Syrian refugee gives the thumb's up as he boards a bus to the Armenian Community Centre, in Toronto on Dec. 11, 2015. (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The money the government has already committed to the UN for Syrian refugee resettlement is in addition to $1.2 billion in development and humanitarian support to countries in that region, part of the Liberals' recently refocused mission to combat Islamic militants.

Tuesday's budget also sees $256 million added over two years to what's known as the international assistance envelope to "increase Canada's ability to respond to emerging international assistance priorities,'' the budget says.

A further $585.5 million over three years will be allocated to programs promoting peace and security around the world, but the money would come from unallocated funds in the assistance envelope.

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