Canada sets example on Syrian refugees, aid agencies say

GENEVA (Reuters) - Canada has set a humanitarian example by swiftly taking in some of the desperate Syrian refugees who continue to arrive in Europe in significant numbers in December, aid agencies said on Friday.

Syrian refugees are presented with a child's winter jacket by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) on their arrival from Beirut at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

After months of promises and weeks of preparation, the first Canadian government planeload of Syrian refugees landed in Toronto on Thursday, aboard a military aircraft met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The 163 refugees will be followed by a second military airlift to Montreal on Saturday. Trudeau has said 10,000 will be resettled by year-end and a further 15,000 by the end of February, fulfilling his government’s pledge to accept 25,000.

“Canada’s programs are an expression of support to Syrian refugees but importantly for us they are a demonstration too of solidarity to countries in the region hosting more than 4 million Syrian refugees,” U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

“We encourage other states to engage in these programs.”

Leonard Doyle, spokesman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said Canada’s intake was “impressive by any standards”. “The main point is that the program is going to unfold very rapidly. The Canadians are extremely welcoming.”

The IOM is providing transport, basic registration, medical screening and logistical support for the operation.

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“The government of Canada interviews the refugees, records their biometrics and is responsible for security screening,” Doyle said.


The reception in Canada contrasted sharply with that in the neighboring United States, where fear of Syrian refugees following the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks spurred opposition to allowing them entry. Some U.S. governors said their states would not accept Syrian refugees. [US:nL1N13Y2VQ]

To date, some 30 countries have pledged more than 160,000 places for Syrians under resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admissions schemes, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The registration and screening process can take up to two years.

President Barack Obama has pledged to bring into the United States as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees fleeing civil war and Islamic State militants. The figure, announced in September, was for the U.S. fiscal year that began in October.

“The United States is the world’s leading resettlement country, it’s a very important actor in the search for solutions for refugees,” Edwards said.

“This is the biggest crisis in the refugee world of our times bar none. More refugees are Syrian than any other nationality.”

So far 944,909 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe this year, according to the UNHCR.

“We are continuing to see a somewhat declining trend of arrivals on a daily basis in the main Greek islands, (with) still significant numbers arriving during December,” Edwards said.

“Clearly we’re not far off the 1 million mark the way things are going.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Heneghan