3,700 fewer Syrian refugees landed in Canada than estimated

December 30, 2015

By Lee Berthiaume, Ottawa Citizen

New numbers from the federal immigration department show the Liberal government will break its promise to have 10,000 Syrian refugees arrive in Canada by the end of the year.

The figures, published on the department’s website on Wednesday, show that fewer than 6,300 Syrian refugees will have touched down when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. This is despite a marked increase in the number of flights delivering Syrians to Montreal and Toronto over the past few days.

Immigration Minister John McCallum was scheduled to update Canadians on the government’s resettlement efforts on Thursday. His office wouldn’t say what the minister would announce, including whether he would be presenting any additional numbers.

The government’s failure to keep even its own scaled-back promise has been largely expected. But while the Liberals are unlikely to face any political fallout for missing its target, it does represent another black mark for a government that is only a few months into its mandate.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31. Justin Trudeau said at the time that all it would take to get so many refugees to Canada in such a short period of time was “political will.”

Once in power, however, they conceded that they would need until the end of February to accomplish that lofty goal. Instead, they pledged to bring in 10,000 Syrians by Dec. 31 and the remainder by Feb. 29.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website, 3,701 of the promised 10,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada as of Dec. 28. Another 2,538 Syrians were due to touch down in Montreal and Toronto on nine chartered flights from Dec. 29-31. That leaves the government short 3,761 of its goal, according to the website.

McCallum admitted last week for the first time that it was “impossible to guarantee” that the government would be able to keep its promise. The comments confirmed what refugee advocates and others had been warning for weeks.

But McCallum also compared the government’s effort to a wave. “It starts slow and builds up,” he told reporters during a press conference on Dec. 23. “And once it builds up to maximum level, large numbers of refugees will be able to fly across the ocean.”

Despite falling about one-third short of the government’s promise, the new numbers do represent a dramatic increase from the fewer than 2,200 Syrians who had arrived as of last week. They also suggest that if the current pace is maintained, all 10,000 refugees could arrive within the first week of January.

The Liberal government avoided significant criticism — and was even praised — for scaling back its original promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, thanks in large part to provincial and municipal concerns about security in the aftermath of November’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Failing to get 10,000 into Canada by Dec. 31 is unlikely to prompt much outrage either. Refugee groups had said what’s important is that the government is pulling out all the stops to get the refugees to Canada as quickly as possible, and the accelerated pace of arrivals suggests that is what’s happening.

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