Government officials say Canada is on track to welcome its 25,000th Syrian refugee before the end of the day on Feb. 29, fulfilling an updated promise made by the Liberal government in late 2015.
In a technical briefing provided to reporters on Wednesday — the ninth such event held since Nov. 4 — officials said there were 23,394 new arrivals in the country by midnight on Tuesday.
The leap year is providing a little bit more breathing room for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration as it attempts to hit the target, they acknowledged.
Speaking on background, the officials highlighted that once the goal of 25,000 has been attained, government-assisted refugees will continue pouring in over the rest of 2016. Feb. 29, they said, will only mark the end of the beginning.
Ottawa has a lesser-known commitment to get 25,000 government sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Currently, 13,439 of the landed refugees are government sponsored, with the rest brought in under private sponsorships or via a blended program that combines government and private assistance.
Officials were also asked about a lack of affordable housing on Wednesday, something that has plagued the resettlement process for several weeks.
Over the past few days, hundreds of refugees have been moved out of cities like Montreal and Toronto, where they were being housed at hotels near airports. The government has changed its strategy in recent weeks, officials said, and has been trying to procure hotel spaces in places like Fredericton and Brampton so refugees can at least get to their destination province and start establishing things like health insurance while they wait for a permanent home.
WATCH: Immigration Minister says focus on finding permanent housing for Syrian refugees
The government also announced on Wednesday that three new “service provider organizations” for refugees have been added in three communities: Leamington, Ont., Peterborough, Ont, and Brooks, Alta.
Around 2,500 of the refugees who have arrived since the start of November have now undergone some type of language assessment, officials said. While privately sponsored refugees tend to come from more urban areas and may speak several languages, many government-assisted refugees arriving from southern areas of Syria tend to be from rural communities. They may not be able to read or write, and frequently speak only Arabic.
Officials said it is not uncommon for new Canadians to spend several months learning English or French.
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