TORONTO - Ottawa is "working very hard" to meet its target of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Monday as he tried to rally the business community around the resettlement effort.
The government has pledged to resettle 25,000 refugees in the country by the end of February, but with less than 1,000 Syrians arriving in Canada since the Liberals took power in early November, some are questioning that objective.
McCallum, however, said he was optimistic.
"We are still working very hard to achieve that 10,000 by the end of the year, as well as 25,000 by the end of February," he said, following a meeting with business leaders in Toronto.
McCallum said a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight carrying just over 200 Syrian refugees was expected to land in Toronto on Tuesday.
It will be the third government-organized flight bringing refugees to the country — the first flight carrying 163 Syrian refugees landed in Toronto last Thursday, while the second touched down in Montreal on Saturday with 161 on board.
"In coming days there will be many, many more flights," McCallum said. "So yes, we are still working very hard to achieve our objectives."
The majority of refugees who have arrived in Canada so far have been privately sponsored by family, friends, individuals or groups who will provide financial and emotional support to the newcomers for typically one year.
McCallum said, however, that larger numbers of government-assisted refugees are expected to start arriving in the coming days. Those refugees are referred to Canada for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency or similar organizations, and have their initial needs supported by the government for up to one year.
McCallum also said Canadian immigration agents are moving swiftly through the screening process for the refugees because they are setting aside any cases that raise suspicions and moving onto the next file.
"If we put the suspicious-sounding cases to the side and proceed with cases that do not appear suspicious then I think that would speed up the process significantly," he said. "There are literally millions of refugees there, so there are many from whom we can chose from."
McCallum made his comments after announcing a target of $50 million to be raised by the Canadian business community in support of Syrian refugees.
"It's an aggressive target, but I think it's a realistic target," he said.
McCallum also announced a housing fund which will operate under the Community Foundations of Canada, which will be kick started by a donation of $5 million by Canadian National Railway Co which was announced last week.
More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country since conflict erupted there in 2011.