OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government still has a target of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, Immigration Minister John McCallum said on Wednesday, although he conceded that number of migrants may not arrive in the country by then.
McCallum said factors such as weather and the time needed by refugees to prepare for their departures meant he could not guarantee the government’s earlier pledge.
Canada’s recently elected Liberal government campaigned on a promise to accept 25,000 refugees by the end of the year. But it pushed its deadline back to February after the deadly November attacks in Paris, saying it would bring in 10,000 by year-end.
“The human element and the weather element make it impossible to guarantee the 10,000 will have arrived on Canadian soil by the end of this month but we are working very hard to achieve it,” McCallum told reporters.
Nonetheless, he said he was “very confident” that 10,000 or more refugees will be processed as permanent residents by the end of the year and that 25,000 refugees would be in Canada before the end of February.
As of Monday, 1,869 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since early November, according to the government.
McCallum said there would be “large numbers” of flights coming into Canada in the coming days, but other than a planeload of refugees due to arrive in Montreal later on Wednesday and another to arrive in Canada the day after Christmas, he did not give specific details.
The maximum number of flights Canada could do is five a day, though that will not necessarily be reached, McCallum said.
Asked how he could be confident of meeting the 25,000 promise, McCallum pointed to the additional time.
“If there’s bad weather or if there’s people wanting to delay their flight for whatever reason, then it’s much more difficult to deal with that over a period of eight days than a period of 60 days,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected to a surprise majority in October, promising to accept more refugees more quickly than the ousted Conservative government. The first planeload of Syrian refugees landed in Toronto earlier this month and was met by Trudeau.
The Syrian refugee crisis became an unexpected focal point of the election campaign after it emerged that the family of a Syrian toddler who drowned had wanted to come to Canada.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao and Dan Grebler