Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum and The Honourable Jane Philpott, Chair of the Cabinet Ad Hoc Committee on Refugees and Minister of Health, provide an update on Canada's plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.


Minister Philpott: Good morning.  Thank you all for coming to spend a few minutes with us today.  This is an important day of the year.  It’s the last day of 2015, a year that has by many measures been an extraordinary year and a year with a great deal of accomplishments to celebrate as Canadians.

Minister McCallum and I wanted to make a few comments on this special day where we are reaching an early peak in the wave of Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  I wanted to start my comments this morning by talking about the fact that we should never forget why we have embarked on this incredible national project.

This is one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our generation, the fact that there are millions of Syrians who have been displaced from their homes because of war and conflict.  Canada has taken an unprecedented step, an initiative that is unparalleled in the world in terms of this large migration through an airlift to bring more than 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.

As you all know we have set highly ambitious targets in order to bring these thousands of people to our country.  Had we not set such incredibly audacious goals I know I can tell you we would not be where we are today.  There are literally thousands of people that have worked day after day, many long hours to get to the accomplishment that we are reaching today where we are seeing here at Pearson Airport three flights of refugees arriving on the very same day, the first time ever, over 800 refugees arriving.

On the day where we come to the end of the year, some Canadians will choose to focus on some measures that we have not achieved by this day.  That’s a choice that they are perfectly within their right to make but I know that most Canadians are going to focus on what we have accomplished.  This is as I have said an unprecedented effort.

While Canadians have for generations now sought to reach out at times of global need to respond to the crises in other lands, we have never done it on a timeline as we have done today.  We have never done it with this kind of speed and this kind of ambition.  Many Canadians are going to focus on the stories of individuals and families that they have heard of.

My parents live in Stratford and I spoke to my mother this morning about a beautiful Syrian refugee family who has arrived in Stratford with eight children and how they have integrated in the community and how my mother saw them at the grocery store.  What a wonderful story and those are the stories that many Canadians will be focusing on today.

Others will focus on the fact that Canada is now a world model.  We are absolutely cognizant of the incredible work of our European colleagues who have opened their borders and welcomed refugees in the order of millions but there is no country in the world that has intentionally organized an airlift on the scale that Canada has where we have intentionally gone out of our way to be able to invite thousands of people and to process them.

I’ve been so proud of the entire team that has made this possible and I want to give a shout out to the whole of government team that has made today’s efforts possible. I spoke to one of the officials recently from Minister McCallum’s department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and he talked about the innovation that has taken place as Canada has reached this effort.

As you know there are a number of steps that have to be attended to in the processing of refugees. People need to have a security screening. There needs to be a demographic screening and medical screening. Ordinarily this has been done in a linear fashion but because of these compressed timelines and because of the fact we did not want to let up on any step of the way, there has been remarkable qualitative improvement in the processing of refugees where this is now being done in parallel fashion.

Were it not for the ambitious targets that Canada has set, this kind of innovation would not have been enjoyed. It will be modeled now by countries around the world. Today is a day to celebrate. Today is a day to say welcome to the many thousands of refugees that have arrived on our doorstep here in Canada over the last number of weeks and thousands more to arrive in the weeks to come. I look forward to talking to you more and I look forward especially in just a few hours to welcome another group of refugees from Syria. Thank you.

Minister McCallum: Thank you very much Jane and good morning everybody. I'm also pleased to say we are – Jane and I are joined by our colleagues Minister Navdeep Bains and our Parliamentary Secretary, there he is, welcome to you both and thank you to you all for joining us today.

This is a time and place when we can clearly see the results of this huge humanitarian initiative in which many Canadians take great pride.

Here on the last day of the year we can clearly see the results of this enormous humanitarian initiative – of which Canadians can be very proud.

The country is ready. In many ways new challenges are just beginning. Communities are coming together to integrate our newcomers, to help them settle in, teach them our languages and culture, introduce them to hockey.

These ordinary Canadians are about to take the baton from the hundreds of Canadian officials in the Middle East who have cleared the refugees for their journey. I expect that today numbers will be top of mind. Let me take you through where we are, as of this morning.

We have reached our goal of identifying 25,000 refugees by December 31st. In fact we reached that number on December 24th and we’re now well beyond it. I invite you also to look at the background document on refugee processing that my department has provided to get a good understanding of what the effort overseas entails.

My officials tell me that they have indeed processed fully 10,700 refugees through all screening stages, medical and security by the close of business today. We just got that confirmation an hour or so ago when business day did close overseas and that number officially is 10,700. Of this number, just over 6,000 refugees will have landed in Canada by the end of the day. We had three planes arrive yesterday, three more today.

I am confident that a full 10,000 will have landed in two weeks from today, by mid-January, and also that 25,000 will have arrived in Canada by the end of February. 

So I am confident that we will met our primary goal of 25,000 by the end of February and we will probably be two weeks behind in terms of our interim target of 10,000 refugees by the end of this year.

Public servants from several departments have coordinated internationally and domestically standing up the government operation centre and working around the clock in a major logistical and humanitarian effort. 

Officials quickly set up a significant overseas operation supported by 500 staff: two new temporary processing centres in Amman, Jordan and Beirut for biometric collection, medical examinations and immigration interviews.

They learned on the job increasing their medical capacity and their (inaudible) tenfold in only three weeks. Where we were doing 600 medical exams a week we boosted that to 800 a day, an achievement that would not have been possible without the support of our military. But the hard work does not end with the federal government. In what has become a true national project, provincial governments, municipalities, businesses, communities, refugee settlement agencies and individual Canadians have all stepped up to the plate, contributing according to their means to this great humanitarian initiative.

The world took note of the photograph of our Prime Minister welcoming the first plane here in this building, and many other countries have also taken note of what Canada has done. A U.S. delegation has visited the operation centre in Amman twice and ambassadors from the U.K., France, Belgium and Holland have also visited our site.

It is true that in Europe they are accepting many, many hundreds of thousands of refugees, but I think we are the only country with this massive airlift. Another thing that the world has recognized is that, upon arrival, all of these refugees become permanent residents and on arrival they receive their permanent resident status, their social insurance numbers.  

We are making it clear to the refugees, and to the world, that these refugees are here to stay. They are here to become Canadian citizens in a few short years. 

As I have said, this is an undertaking of historic proportions.

Rarely do we mobilize in this fashion to bring in such a huge influx of refugees. Two proud achievements of the past include the welcoming of 37,000 Hungarians at the time of the Hungarian Revolution and some 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in the 1970’s over the course of four years.

We are doing this again in 2015 and 2016 and once again I thank every Canadian who has participated in this effort. It has been so wonderful to see Canadians from all coast to coast welcoming the newcomers, helping them feel at home in a place so unlike their previous home.

In conclusion I want to once again thank all Canadians who have participated in this process. I want to inform you that we will continue to be open and transparent and have regular media briefings as time goes by, and I want to wish each and every one of you a very happy New Year.

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