First airlift of Syrian refugees land in Toronto on Thursday, says Justin Trudeau

December 9, 2015

By Alex Boutilier, The Star |

Toronto will play host to the first flight of Syrian refugees Thursday, with a military aircraft bringing 150 of the tens of thousands of people set to arrive in the coming months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’ll be there to welcome the first flight of refugees, scheduled to land at Pearson International Airport just after 9 p.m.

“Resettling refugees demonstrates our commitment to Canadians and to the world that Canada understands that we can and must do more,” Trudeau told the House of Commons.

“It will be a great day.”

A second flight is scheduled to arrive at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on Saturday. While the first two flights will be on military planes, the government expects the remaining flights in December to be private charters.

The arrivals will cap off a month of political effort and a massive behind-the-scenes bureaucratic push to make good on the Liberals’ pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

The government had promised to bring in that number by the end of the year. But after a special cabinet committee led by Health Minister Jane Philpott examined the logistics, the Liberals pushed that deadline back to the end of February 2016.

The government still hopes to resettle 10,000 refugees — mostly privately sponsored — by the end of the year, with 15,000 following in the first two months of 2016.

Figures released Wednesday morning by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada show that 416 Syrians have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4. A further 1,451 refugees have been issued permanent resident visas, and are awaiting transportation to Canada.

A total of 11,932 applications are currently in process, and funding for resettlement assistance centres has been increased by $3.6 million to “deal with this huge flow of refugees quite suddenly,” Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

Canadian officials believe they’ve resolved issues with the government of Lebanon over issuing exit visas to refugees — an early roadblock to Ottawa’s efforts. McCallum said Canadian officials are interviewing a combined average of 800 people per day at two refugee processing centres in Jordan and Lebanon.

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