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Canada Extends Deadline To Accept Syrian Refugees

The Canadian government has had to scale back ambitious plans to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

The pledge by Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to bring in the refugees helped sweep him to power in last month's elections. But the Paris attacks and the daunting logistics of the plan forced Canada to extend that deadline.

The government unveiled its updated plans on Tuesday. Its says it hopes to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of February.

Harjit Sajjan, Canada's defense minister says hundreds of refugees will be airlifted from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

"The Royal Canadian air force is preparing to provide transport of refugees to Canada every 48 hours in support of this operation. We remain prepared to provide temporary lodging for up to 6,000 Syrian refugees at military bases in Ontario and Quebec and more if necessary," he says.

Like any other new refugee in Canada, the Syrians will be given health care, language classes and financial assistance from the government.

Peter Goodspeed is with Lifeline Syria, a grassroots organization that helps sponsor refugees. He says churches, universities and whole communities have been pitching in to help raise money, find housing and employment for the refugees.

Goodspeed says the scale and the speed of the operation to welcome the refugees caught the government off guard, forcing it to push back its January 1st deadline. He says that's not a big deal.

"They're going forward to bring people in and doing it as rapidly as they can. And I don't think anybody is really going to hold them to task for a January 1st deadline. If it's February or March, as long as they're still ... trying to help I think people will be happy with that," he said.

Goodspeed says support for the operation suffered a setback after the Paris attacks. There were questions about a potential security risk in an effort to hit the deadline.

Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale says the Syrians will be heavily vetted by the UN refugee agency as well as Canadian intelligence and security forces before getting on a plane to Canada.

"They will be examining the biographical information, the biometrics, the results of the interviews. If they sense there's anything there that causes them concern or discomfort or doubt, they will set aside that file and move on to the next applicant," he says.

Goodale says the most vulnerable will be chosen to be settled in Canada - that includes women, children, families and the elderly. Goodspeed says that makes sense if they're trying to get large numbers of refugees in, but it could mean single unaccompanied men may have to wait.

"The easiest ones to screen and process would be families with children and elderly people ... whereas the single young males might need more detailed background checks," he says. "But there are all kinds of single young males that are vulnerable too and need to be resettled. So they'll be in the system but I'm sure probably coming in later."

The first Syrian refugees will begin arriving next week.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.