Canada will miss its latest target for admitting Syrian refugees, but senior members of Justin Trudeau's administration congratulated their own government for having moved "heaven and earth" to welcome 6,000 asylum seekers in two months.
Trudeau campaigned for prime minister on a promise to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of the year. The pledge was revised shortly after his Liberals took office in November to 10,000 by December 31, and another 15,000 by the end of February.
Today, at a press conference in Toronto, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced that 10,700 Syrians had been fully screened and processed in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but that just over 6,000 would have touched Canadian soil by the end of the day. He said all 10,000 will have arrived by mid January.
"I would say we have largely met our promises. We will certainly deliver 25,000 refugees by the end of February," McCallum told reporters, calling it a "very great moment in Canadian history."
"My conclusion is not to apologize for anything, but to congratulate the public servants for a fantastic job," he added, touting the "major logistical and humanitarian effort" that saw the government increase its processing capacity 10-fold. The center in Beirut, for example, has gone from medically screening 600 applicants a week to 800 a day, he said, while at home, Canadians have mobilized to privately sponsor most of the arrivals so far — a responsibility that sees them take carriage of their well being for a year.
And while McCallum acknowledged that European nations are accepting many more refugees, he said Canada is the only country with a "massive airlift" operation, which was noticed around the world when Trudeau, himself, welcomed the first planeload of Syrians to Canada.
Canada is also granting Syrian refugees permanent residence status upon arrival, complete with access to health care and other government services.
McCallum blamed the latest delay on the "human nature" of some refugees who, while eager to come to Canada, did not want to leave on a moment's notice. He also acknowledged that the public service had to iron out a few kinks before its refugee processing machine was in full swing.
He and his colleague, Health Minister Jane Philpott, sought to focus attention on the "two week delay," instead of the missed election commitment, which Philpott called "incredibly ambitious." But she said it's thanks to that target that Canada picked up the pace at all.
"When history is written, the story will be how we welcomed 25,000 refugees in a short period of time and not the fact that there was a two week delay in meeting the intermediary target," said McCallum.
He said the government intends to admit more Syrians in 2016, for a total of at least 35,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000.