Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has confirmed the federal government will speed up the process for refugee resettlement in Canada, bringing in “thousands more” Syrians and Iraqis by the end by 2015.

The Conservative government would also complete the resettlement process of the 10,000 refugees it promised to accept by September 2016 — “a full 15 months earlier than anticipated,” Alexander told reporters in Toronto’s Scarborough area on Saturday.

Alexander said the government would accelerate its existing commitment by designating Syrians and Iraqis who have fled as prima facie refugees, rather than relying on a United Nations designation prior to considering an application for resettlement.

The UN has conceded it has been overwhelmed by refugee claims in recent months, resulting in a considerable backlog of applications.

“Today, by designating them differently, we are greatly expanding the potential for candidates and sponsorship with the private partners across Canada,” said Alexander, who’s running for re-election in the riding of Ajax, Ont., for the Oct. 19 federal vote.

Alexander also said the government would deploy additional officers to missions abroad and that applications from Syrians and Iraqis will be handled within six months of being filed.

“Some of our officers have already reached the missions that are most involved in the resettlement efforts,” he said. “We will have more human resources hitting the ground in the coming days and weeks.”

“We will do all of that by cutting red tape and ensuring that Canada’s and Canadians’ security is not compromised in any way,” the minister said in French, adding that a special co-ordinator will be appointed to handle the overall file of Syrian and Iraqi refugees by working with community partners and other levels of government.

On the Canadian side, Alexander said the government is doubling the size of the workforce at the Winnipeg processing centre where all applications are handled.

The government would also allow groups of five and families to sponsor those who have not yet received convention refugee status.

The cost of these measures, Alexander said, will be $25 million over two fiscal years.

The new measures come amid fierce criticism from political rivals that the Conservatives have not done enough to expedite the resettlement process for refugees fleeing ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq.

Both the NDP and Liberals have offered up their own plans.

  • NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has said on the campaign trail that a New Democratic government would resettle 10,000 Syrians before the end of the year. He has also stressed the need for more Canadian immigration officials to be on the ground in the Middle East.
  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has touted his party’s even more ambitious plan, saying a Grit government would bring in up to 25,000 refugees from Syria by January, 2016.

Syrian emergency relief fund

The Conservative government had also created a Syrian emergency relief fund, which took effect last Saturday, that would match donations from Canadians to registered charities up to $100 million.

The funds will assist those in Syria and neighbouring countries affected by the war in Syria, and will provide basic needs such as food, clothing and health care.

The refugee crisis is front-and-centre in the electoral campaign, with the Conservatives taking heat from the public and other parties who accuse them of not taking in enough refugees.