Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is "disappointed" by the fears and "politics of division" playing out in the United States over offering sanctuary to refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Trudeau made the remarks in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, the same day his Liberal government unveiled the details of a plan to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by February — two months later than he had previously promised.
The US federal government has pledged to accept 10,000 asylum seekers from the conflict zone within a year, but nearly two dozen Republican governors have stated they won't allow Syrians into their state following the Paris attacks.
In the interview, Trudeau said he was "aware that there might be concerns" about Canada's plan when he sat down with President Barack Obama last week. "On the contrary, he was effusive in his support of what we were doing," said Trudeau. "He pointed out ... that there is more security risk from tourists than there are from refugees," he said, adding that Canada's border agency processes upwards of 250,000 people a day coming into the country.
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"The fears and politics of division that are being played, in I think a very cynical way, during a US election year is disappointing, not terribly surprising, but the fact is all the more important, then, for Canada to demonstrate that this is a positive thing. Welcoming in families who are going to be extraordinarily rich contributors to not just the communities they are in but to the cohesion and fabric of Canada is a positive thing."
It's not that there hasn't been apprehension in Canada, too.
While the plight of desperate Syrians caught in the middle of a ruthless dictator and the Islamic State galvanized a push for more action during the recent Canadian election, concern over the logistics of Trudeau's plan led to alarm over security risks following the assault on Paris. The possibility that terrorists could hide among the flood of refugees seeking safe haven had leaders calling on the government not to rush through the processing of applications.
A poll released over the weekend found that 60 percent of Canadians opposed the plan to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of the year.
Trudeau acknowledged that the Paris attacks had changed the perceptions of Canadians, but maintained that most people want to help. He said the decision to take another two months to process applicants was not a direct result of Paris. Security screening will be done overseas, now, instead of in Canada. Once Syrians arrive, they will go through border controls, and after that can move around freely.
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"This is about welcoming people who are fleeing terrorism, not bringing terrorism with them," said Trudeau, who emphasized that Canada has been able to address similar concerns in the past.
"When we welcomed in tens of thousands of Vietnamese boat people back in the early 80s, security was an issue then. Security was a concern that Canadians had when we were welcoming impoverished East African refugees who then turned around in the Ismaili community and contributed untold success and growth to Canada. So, security is obviously something that always has to be top of mind when you're welcoming people from conflict zones, from war zones. But it's never a reason not to do it, and it can always be handled responsibly," he said.
He noted that in the coming decades, climate change, future conflicts, and resource depletion will fuel the wave of refugees around the world, and "demonstrating that there are ways to make refugees a positive for the country, as Canada has done historically, is an important message."