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Canada Releases Details Of Plan To Resettle 25,000 Syrian Refugees


The Canadian government has scaled back its ambitious plans to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in the country by the end of the year. The pledge to bring in the refugees was a campaign promise by Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau. That promise helped sweep him into power in last month's elections. NPR's Jackie Northam reports that the Paris attacks and the daunting logistics of the plan have forced Canada to extend the January 1 deadline.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The plan unveiled today is called Operation Syrian Refugees. The name might sound obvious, but the goal is expansive. Harjit Sajjan, Canada's defense minister, said hundreds of refugees will be airlifted from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.


HARJIT SAJJAN: 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.

NORTHAM: 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 which 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 caught the government off guard, forcing it to push back its January 1 deadline.

PETER GOODSPEED: The fact is there's been a radical change in policy, and they're going forward to bring people in and doing it as rapidly as they can. And I don't think anybody's really going to hold them to the task for a January 1 deadline. If it's February or March, as long as they're still trying to help, I think people will be happy with that.

NORTHAM: Goodspeed says support for the operation suffered a setback after the Paris attacks. There were questions whether there was 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 U.N. refugee agency and Canadian intelligence and security forces before getting on a plane to Canada.


RALPH GOODALE: They will be examining the biographical information, the biometrics, the results of the interviews. If they sense that 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.

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

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

NORTHAM: The first Syrian refugees will begin arriving next week. The Canadian government says it hopes 10,000 will be resettled by the end of the year. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.