Syrian migrants: Diplomats and immigration officers told by Ottawa not to speak about airlift plan
The original goal had been to begin the airlift by Thursday of this week, but as no charter aircraft have been booked yet, it would now be at least one more week before flights got underway, one of the officials said. When the flights reach their peak next month, about 1,000 refugees will be arriving in Canada every day.
The officials did not want to be identified because diplomats and immigration officers have been told by Ottawa not to speak about the matter, with all requests referred to the government.
“Unfortunately I have nothing to say to you at the moment,” Immigration Canada spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said in an email from Ottawa, adding that he was unable to confirm any details about the resettlement program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded Monday to questions about security concerns that have arisen since like week’s savage terrorist attacks by ISIL in Lebanon and France and their alleged Syrian connections, by insisting that his government would stick to its pledge to bring all the Syrian refugees to Canada within six weeks and that measures would be taken to ensure the safety of Canadians.
But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which registers asylum seekers and is supposed to be working with Canada on its resettlement program, said Tuesday that it remained largely in the dark about Ottawa’s plans.
While the UNHCR welcomed the Canadian announcement to settle Syrians, “I am afraid I cannot talk about Canada’s program,” spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said in an email from Geneva “until we know more about the modalities.”
One of the reasons things were going so slowly was that Canada has not yet provided the UN with the numbers of refugees it wants the agency to identify for resettlement from each country, a UN spokesperson in Beirut said.
One government official said Immigration Canada had begun interviewing refugees several days ago at an undisclosed location in Beirut, but had not yet done so in Jordan or Turkey. For this reason, the quota of refugees from Lebanon would be larger than those for the other two countries.
The UNHCR refused to comment officially about the Canadian-imposed deadline to get the refugees across the Atlantic because “it is a very tricky situation,” one of several UNHCR officials spoken with in Beirut said.
Another UN official gave a bewildered look when asked about the Canadian timeline.
Representatives from Canada and the UN and diplomats from other embassies posted in the region privately expressed grave doubts about whether such a large resettlement project could be completed in a safe and responsible way in such a short time frame.
Independent of each other, several of them said they were surprised and disappointed that the prime minister had not used the terror attacks in Paris and Beirut as justification for slowing the Canadian resettlement program down to a more manageable pace.
None of these officials could remember any country trying to resettle 25,000 refugees in such a short time period, particularly across almost half the world to a country where they will experience a serious winter for the first time in their lives.
Comparisons were drawn with Australia and Britain, where more modest schemes to resettle Syrian refugees were being spread out over between six months and several years largely because of security concerns and logistical hurdles.
The chief concern was whether Canada had given itself enough time for its security teams to conduct the rigorous vetting required to ensure that refugees bound for Canada were not connected to ISIL or other banned terrorist organizations that control parts of Syria. This was particularly important in light of claims in recent days by Syrian-based ISIL that it intends to continue carrying out murderous attacks overseas.