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Canada On Track To Resettle 25,000 Syrian Refugees


Canada is on the verge of hitting its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of this month. That's notable because the country only started accepting these migrants less than four months ago. The government in Canada has relied on private citizens to help carry the load. And we're joined by NPR's Jackie Northam who has been following this story from the start, and she's in the Canadian capital of Ottawa this morning.

Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning David.

GREENE: So this was really a short timeframe - I mean, a campaign promise made by Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I mean, it seemed a few months ago like such a huge undertaking, and it sounds like it's gone very well.

NORTHAM: Well, it's actually gone better than most people expected. It got off to a slow start. Initially the government wanted to bring in the 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 - so really, giving themselves just a two-month time frame. But, you know, it became quickly apparent that wasn't going to happen. There were some real challenges with moving that many refugees so quickly from camps mostly in Jordan and Lebanon. They had to identify which refugees are eligible and then they had to go through several layers of security and medical screenings. You know, there were problems with the weather, with getting flights organized. And then, you know, some refugees weren't willing to leave quite so fast. So the deadline was extended until the end of this month, and they overcame those challenges. And at this point, you know, there's only a couple of a thousand more people to go before Canada does make that goal.

GREENE: Well, Jackie, who's really carried the burden here? I mean, the government, private citizens or who?

NORTHAM: Well, 15,000 of the refugees are being sponsored by the government, but what's remarkable is that about 10,000 are being resettled under a private sponsorship program and it allows private citizens or groups to bring refugees into Canada. You know, so we're seeing a lot of church groups and neighborhood groups, PTAs - things like that all across Canada are stepping up to help in organizing. They have to make a one-year commitment to help the refugees get settled here, and that includes covering expenses, finding them housing and jobs, getting the kids settled in school. And even though it's a private sponsorship, the government will also help. They'll give the refugees a stipend, they'll get free health care and language lessons and the government will also pick up the cost of travel.

GREENE: You know, Jackie, I just think of the United States. There was this goal to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees. Only a fraction of that number have come in so far, and there's been a real debate here in the United States. I mean there are many people who are opposed to bringing migrants in - fears of safety, other concerns. I mean, has it been a totally different situation in Canada?

NORTHAM: I mean, David, there has been some opposition here, certainly. You know, Canada's economy is not doing very well at all, and there are questions - why should we be bringing in this many people, you know, and giving them housing and free health care and everything else? But I think it is driving forward because there is political will here to bring in the immigrants. You know, immigration isn't a hot button issue like it is in the States. No major political party here opposes immigration and there are plans to bring in more once they've hit this 25,000. They could bring in anywhere from another 15,000 to 25,000 over the next year or so.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Jackie Northam reporting for us this morning in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

Jackie, thanks a lot.

NORTHAM: Thank you David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.

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