Canada anxious over possible backlash against Syrian refugees

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum (L) and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan attend a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (Reuters)

By David Ljunggren OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government is concerned about a possible backlash against plans to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, especially if the public thinks the newcomers were being "pampered", a cabinet minister said on Tuesday. "Canadians are struggling for jobs themselves. Canadians have been waiting, in some case years, for social housing. There is a possibility of a social backlash against refugees if Canadians see them as being pampered," Immigration and Refugees Minister John McCallum said. "So I think it's really important in executing this plan ... (that) we don't want Canadians to think we are giving refugees everything and not accommodating the needs of our own people," he said. The new Liberal government has already pushed back its deadline for accepting the refugees to the end of February from January 1, partly because of security concerns after last month's attacks in Paris. Authorities across Canada are scrambling to prepare for the arrivals by arranging for temporary accommodations, healthcare, long-term social support and schools, along with discussing employment possibilities. McCallum, who is helping coordinate the federal effort, told a public forum on the refugees that his biggest challenge was to ensure the general public maintained its support for the effort. He also said Ottawa needed to keep Canadians reassured about security. After the attacks in Paris, some critics complained the initial target was too ambitious and could lead to militants sneaking in disguised as refugees. On November 13 Paris was hit by coordinated attacks in which 130 people were killed. The group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the violence. Canada, which has said all necessary security checks would be made before refugees are flown in, has sent 500 officials to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to oversee the effort. They are working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations refugee agency. Many details of the plan are still not clear, even though Canada has committed to bringing in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year. Ottawa has said it would use military and chartered planes to fly the refugees from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. McCallum told reporters late on Monday that he hoped the first plane would arrive next week. IOM official Craig Murphy, who is based in Amman, told reporters in Geneva by phone on Tuesday that the processing center in Jordan would be able to handle a maximum of 500 refugees a day by December 5. All male applicants were being asked about military service, although having served in the Syrian armed forces would not automatically disqualify anyone, he said. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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