Canada’s conservative government said on Saturday that it will accelerate the processing of Syrian refugee applications to issue thousands of more visas before the end of 2015.
Canadian Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander announced Saturday in East Toronto that Canada planned to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the country by next September, 15 months ahead of a previously determined schedule, by processing them without the previously required document by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which designates them as refugees.
The government will also allow groups of five and families to sponsor those who have not yet received refugee status.
“The government is accelerating our existing commitment to refugee resettlement, not increasing the actual target numbers,” Alexander said.
“But the new measures, which are expected to cost $25 million over two years, could speed up the movement of some 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada from the current three-year timetable by about 15 months,” he added.
At the same time, Mr. Alexander stressed security screening of the refugees remains a government priority.
“We will do all this without cutting red tape and without compromising security in any way,” he said.
The government has said refugees fleeing persecution, particularly religious minorities, would be prioritized.
The campaigning Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has also announced in January that Canada would accept 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over three years and promised in August to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian and 3,000 Iraqi refugees over four years, if his government is re-elected on October 19.
In 2013 he had also promised to resettle 1,300 Syrians by the end of the year. According to government data, Canada has accepted 2,406 Syrian refugees so far.
Harper’s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis has become a key election issue for Canadians, who will decide if the prime minister earns a rare fourth term on October 19 federal election. Harper’s party is in a tight three-way race with the centrist Liberal Party and the left-leaning New Democratic Party ahead of the election.
More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict erupted in 2011.
Several countries have announced they will take in thousands of more refugees, since the drowned Syrian toddler whose family aspired to come to Canada became an unforgettable symbol of the humanitarian crisis spreading from Syria into Europe.