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Clock ticking on Canada’s refugee plan while concerns expressed over tight timeline

November 17, 2015

By Matthew Fisher, National Post |

The timing of Canada’s crash program to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year keeps sliding, according to two officials familiar with aspects of the planning.

The original goal had been to begin the airlift by Thursday of this week, but as no charter aircraft have been booked yet, it would now be at least one more week before flights got underway, one of the officials said. When the flights reach their peak next month, about 1,000 refugees will be arriving in Canada every day.

The officials did not want to be identified because diplomats and immigration officers have been told by Ottawa not to speak about the matter, with all requests referred to the government.

“Unfortunately I have nothing to say to you at the moment,” Immigration Canada spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said in an email from Ottawa, adding that he was unable to confirm any details about the resettlement program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded Monday to questions about security concerns that have arisen since like week’s savage terrorist attacks by ISIL in Lebanon and France and their alleged Syrian connections, by insisting that his government would stick to its pledge to bring all the Syrian refugees to Canada within six weeks and that measures would be taken to ensure the safety of Canadians.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which registers asylum seekers and is supposed to be working with Canada on its resettlement program, said Tuesday that it remained largely in the dark about Ottawa’s plans.

While the UNHCR welcomed the Canadian announcement to settle Syrians, “I am afraid I cannot talk about Canada’s program,” spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said in an email from Geneva “until we know more about the modalities.”

One of the reasons things were going so slowly was that Canada has not yet provided the UN with the numbers of refugees it wants the agency to identify for resettlement from each country, a UN spokesperson in Beirut said.

One government official said Immigration Canada had begun interviewing refugees several days ago at an undisclosed location in Beirut, but had not yet done so in Jordan or Turkey. For this reason, the quota of refugees from Lebanon would be larger than those for the other two countries.

The UNHCR refused to comment officially about the Canadian-imposed deadline to get the refugees across the Atlantic because “it is a very tricky situation,” one of several UNHCR officials spoken with in Beirut said.

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