Canada pushes back deadline for accepting Syrian refugees

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sworn in this month, made the initial pledge part of his election campaign.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference at Rideau Hall after being sworn in as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister in Ottawa, Ontario, 4 November, 2015. Picture: AFP.

OTTAWA - The Canadian government on Tuesday pushed back to the end of February its deadline for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees, in a concession that its original 1 January target was too difficult to meet.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sworn in this month, made the initial pledge part of his election campaign but a wide array of critics said the goal was unrealistic.

Some provincial and municipal leaders have complained the short timeline did not allow for enough security checks to root out possible Islamic State militants. Others said they could not cope with such a heavy flow of new arrivals.

"We just looked at the logistics, we looked at what it would take to bring them in by 1 January, and we had options around that," Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"We realised that we wanted to make sure that it was done absolutely right."

The government will fly in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and the remainder by end-February.

In another sign of the challenges it is facing, Ottawa cut back its commitment to sponsor all 25,000. Instead, 10,000 will be sponsored privately, with Ottawa aiming to reach its 25,000 target by the end of 2016.

The opposition Conservative Party said it was pleased Trudeau "had abandoned a timeline that was not workable".

One of the biggest political challenges for the government is the fear that militants could sneak into Canada disguised as refugees. Since the 13 November attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State, an anti-refugee petition launched in Quebec has garnered more than 75,000 signatures nationwide.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said refugees would undergo several security checks.

"If there is any doubt about an application or an interview or any of the data, the file will simply be put aside and held for further consideration at a later time," he told a briefing.

Canada will spend up to C$678 million ($510 million) over six years flying in the refugees from Turkey, Syria and Jordan and then helping resettle them. The first flight is due to leave from the region early next month.

The federal government will give priority to complete families, women at risk and gay or transgender people.

It will prioritise single adult men only if they are gay, bisexual or transgender, or if they are accompanying their parents. Private groups will be allowed to sponsor any single adult man regardless of his sexual orientation.