Canada will take in more than 6,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, missing its already delayed target of accepting 10,000 by year-end, the Canadian government said on Thursday.
Immigration Minister John McCallum said he expects Canada to reach that goal by mid-January, and meet its larger target of accepting 25,000 refugees by the end of February.
"It is better to do it well and fast, but doing it well is the highest priority," McCallum said.
Canada's recently elected Liberal government campaigned on a promise to accept 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015. But it pushed back the date after the deadly November attacks in Paris, saying it would bring in 10,000 by year-end and the remaining 15,000 by the end of February.
McCallum said the government by the end of Thursday will have fully screened 10,700 refugees to come to Canada, fleeing from civil war and violence by the militant group Islamic State.
Canada's public service is processing about 10 times more refugees per month than usual, said Health Minister Jane Philpott.
The pace has raised security concerns. Canada's government will inevitably cut corners on security screening, security sources said last month, before Ottawa delayed its target the first time.
Once the target of 25,000 by the end of February, McCallum said he expects Canada to bring in at least 10,000 more in 2016, for a total of 35,000 to 50,000 refugees helped by the government and private sponsors.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected to a surprise majority in October, promising to accept more refugees more quickly than the ousted Conservatives. The first planeload of government-sponsored Syrian refugees landed in Toronto earlier this month, met by Trudeau.
Opposition legislator Jenny Kwan of the New Democratic Party said she hoped what she described as the government's "mishandling" would not damage Canada's international reputation.
"Not only did this minister (McCallum) irrefutably fail to live up to the promise Liberals made to Canadians in the last election, but he even failed to meet his own lowered expectations," she said.
Even so, international aid agencies praised Canada this month as a humanitarian example. In contrast, some U.S. governors have said their states would not accept Syrian refugees.
President Barack Obama has pledged to bring as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States during the U.S. fiscal year that began in October.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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