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Canada May Use Its Military Jets and Ships to Rescue Syrian Refugees

Speaking in Ottawa on Monday, Immigration Minister John McCallum promised that “a good number [of refugees] will be arriving in the weeks to come.”

by Justin Ling
Nov 9 2015, 8:35pm

Santo Palacios/AP

With less than eight weeks left in the year, Canada's new Liberal government is doubling-down on its commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees before 2016.

Speaking in Ottawa on Monday, Immigration Minister John McCallum promised that "a good number will be arriving in the weeks to come." They have not yet, however, begun arriving, and McCallum says he is still unsure of when the first group will arrive.

The government will need to bring in, on average, over 3,300 refugees a week in order to meet its commitment. McCallum maintained that, despite rushing that number into the country, his department could handle the issues.

"I can tell you that we will competently consider the security and health concerns," McCallum told reporters.

The previous Conservative government had resisted calls to expedite the backlog of refugee claims from Syria, largely on the grounds that speeding up those applications posed a national security risk.

McCallum said his government was yet unsure of whether these refugees would be brought in from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, or a mix of the three.

But one of the biggest concerns for the plan might be logistics. First, the government will need export permits for many of those refugees coming from the Middle East to Canada. Then comes the question of transportation.

While the Canadian air force has 27 strategic transport planes, most can only transport between 90 and 200 passengers at a time. It's unclear if any of those aircraft are stationed in Kuwait as a part of Operation IMPACT, Canada's fight against the so-called Islamic State that Trudeau has vowed to end.

Beyond that, McCallum opened the door to using commercial airliners, and possibly even ships. He added that Canadian Forces bases could be used to house some of the refugees when they arrive in Canada, before they find more permanent housing.

"Every option is on the table. Whatever works, whatever is cost effective, whatever will get them here safely and quickly," McCallum said. "So yes, we're looking at the possibility of commercial airlines. We're looking at the possibility of the Air Force. We're looking at the possibility of ships. All of these things are being considered as we speak, and all will be used to the extent that they are needed to get the job done."

Related: This Black American Wants Refugee Status in Canada Because of Police Brutality

The program won't be cheap. The Liberals have promised $100 million in the 2015/2016 fiscal year to pay for the new refugees, and have committed another $100 million to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The government has not said, however, whether these refugees are government-sponsored, or private-sponsored. Refugees who are supported by the government generally receive a year of financial assistance, while those brought in by church groups, family members, or generous benefactors do not receive the same level of support.

Numerous groups complained that the previous government was not doing enough to approve private sponsorship applications for Syrian refugees.

To get the job done, the government has struck a special sub-committee of cabinet to oversee the plan. The committee consists of Jane Philpott, Melanie Joly, McCallum himself, Ralph Goodale, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Stephane Dion, Harjit Sajjan, Maryam Monsef and Scott Brison.

Philpott, as minister of health, will have to take into account the public health concerns associated with bringing in an influx of refugees from the war-torn country; Goodale, minister of public safety, is tasked with security screenings for the Syrians; Brison, minister of the treasury board, will handle the enormous cost of the endeavor; while Dion, minister of foreign affairs, will have to work with Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to figure out the logistics of picking-up and transporting the refugees. Monsef, minister of democratic institutions is, herself, a refugee from Afghanistan.

"The committee's function is to make this work, which involves getting things moving very, very fast and very, very competently," McCallum said.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling