December 09, 2015 - 6:30 PM
OTTAWA - The federal Liberal government's first airlift of Syrian refugees will arrive Thursday in Toronto, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Trudeau confirmed the details Wednesday during question period in the House of Commons, saying that the Toronto flight was scheduled to arrive at 9:15 p.m.
A second plane is scheduled to arrive Saturday in Montreal, he added.
The Liberals are aiming to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of February.
While Syrian refugees have been arriving in Canada for months via commercial aircraft, Thursday's airlift represents the start of the massive resettlement program the Liberals promised during the election campaign.
They had promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year's end, but were forced to spread the commitment over a longer time period because of the logistics involved.
The first 10,000 refugees the government is aiming to bring to Canada by Dec. 31 will almost entirely be those with private sponsors set to welcome them to communities in every province.
By the end of February 2016, the government is itself hoping to resettle 15,000 refugees, to be initially spread among 36 different cities where agencies have agreements for resettlement services.
Roadblocks to getting the program off the ground have included getting the United Nations to find enough cases to refer to Canada for possible resettlement, technical hiccups regarding biometric screening equipment and diplomatic wrangling with governments in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey over exit visas.
Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday that a logjam with the government of Lebanon in particular has now been cleared, which should make it easier for visas to be allocated.
"Two days ago, we were very worried about this issue, but thankfully, the Government of Lebanon has responded very well, and we now have exit visas, certainly easily enough for the first two planes to come from that part of the world to Canada," McCallum said.
But, that process could be slowed down anew following elections scheduled in that country for later this month.
An election in Turkey earlier this year has been partially blamed for the slow start to refugee processing there and McCallum said it is unlikely that any refugees currently in Turkey will come to Canada by the end of the year.,
The most progress is being made out of the government's operations in Jordan, where hundreds of people a day are now being screened by security and health officers.
"We never put all our eggs in one basket," McCallum said.
"We always had three countries with which we were working from the beginning, and if one country produces more, another may produce less, but putting the three together, we are certainly working very hard to realize our targets."
The preliminary budget for the program is as much as $698 million. McCallum announced Wednesday that the resettlement agencies will be getting a $3.6 million boost to their budgets this year to cope with the influx of Syrians.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015