How to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees: A step-by-step guide

Kamal Khsheat, his wife and his five children arrived in Azraq, a refugee camp in Jordan, five days before this photo was taken in 2014. He didn't want to leave Syria, but two of his cousins were killed by a bomb. He left for his children's sake. Leslie Young / Global News

After weeks of speculation, the government announced its plan to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada on Tuesday.

It’s not quite as advertised: The Liberals promised during the election to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015. They’ll be missing this deadline – only 10,000 are supposed to arrive by the new year, with the remaining 15,000 coming in January and February.

They also promised that these would all be government-assisted refugees. But only 15,000 will; the rest will be privately sponsored.

And the vast majority of refugees arriving by the new year will be privately sponsored.

READ MORE: Canada to miss target of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end

“Yes we want to bring them fast but we also want to do it right,” said Immigration Minister John McCallum.

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“We are happy to take a little more time because that allows us to be more prepared.”

Here’s what the government is going to do, step-by-step.

Step 1: Find and identify

To be eligible for resettlement in Canada, people have to be Syrian nationals or stateless people previously living in Syria, who are now living outside Syria. They also have to be formally registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or the government of Turkey.

Canada is prioritizing its refugee selection:

  • Families
  • Women at risk (not clearly defined)
  • Members of sexual minorities

Single adult men are only permitted if they are coming with their parents as a family unit, if they are members of the LGBTI community or if they are privately sponsored.

READ MORE: Could prioritizing gay Syrian refugees do more harm than good?

Oh, and a mobile number will help: UNHCR will text eligible refugees in its database to see if they’re interested in coming to Canada. If they are, they need to go to a local UNHCR office (there are five across Lebanon, five in Turkey and three in Jordan) where their identity will be confirmed through various means, including retinal scans.

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Step 2: Security check, medical check, paperwork

The government has visa offices in Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon, and will set up an office somewhere in Turkey. Refugees referred by the UNHCR will report to these offices for interviews with visa officers.

There they’ll get a medical exam checking them for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, among other things.

Immigration officers will collect biographical information through interviews as well as biometrics such as fingerprints and digital photos. Those will be checked against immigration, law enforcement and security databases.

WATCH: How refugees are screened

If no red flags come up, they’re given permanent resident visas and the government starts arranging their trip, no matter if they’re government-assisted or privately-sponsored.

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Step 3: Transportation

Normally, Canada effectively lends refugees money for their plane tickets: The cost of that trip – and of their first medical exam – must be repaid.

However in the case of Syrian refugees, the government has said they will waive such fees and foot the bill itself.

Refugees will mostly be travelling on chartered commercial flights, though the government has said it will use military aircraft as backup if required.

The Canada Border Services Agency will check refugees’ identities again before their flight; they will also be screened a second time for any health problems that would prevent their flying.

Step 4: Arrival in Canada

Flights will arrive in either Montreal or Toronto.

Once refugees get off the plane they’ll be greeted by CBSA officers for a third identity check and medical screening.

Then privately sponsored refugees head to their host communities while government-assisted refugees are “matched” with communities by the government.

This matching will based primarily on a community’s settlement services. Most people will end up in a community that currently has a government-funded Resettlement Assistance Program, though it’s possible that the government will add more cities.

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The government is trying to make sure refugees don’t end up in temporary accommodations, though they are making spaces for up to 6,000 people at military bases if necessary.

Here’s a list of cities that have Refugee Assistance Programs right now – the most likely destinations for refugees. Cities will be working out who goes where and where they stay in a meeting this weekend – though it will likely take longer than that.


  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Red Deer
  • Lethbridge
  • Medicine Hat

British Columbia:

  • The Lower Mainland


  • Winnipeg

New Brunswick:

  • Fredericton
  • Moncton
  • Saint John

Newfoundland and Labrador:

  • St. John’s

Nova Scotia:

  • Halifax


  • Ottawa
  • Toronto
  • London
  • Windsor
  • Kitchener
  • Hamilton

Prince Edward Island:

  • Charlottetown


  • Saskatoon
  • Moose Jaw
  • Regina
  • Prince Albert

Quebec (provided by the Quebec government):

  • Montreal
  • Quebec
  • Sherbrooke
  • Drummondville
  • Victoriaville
  • Trois-Rivieres
  • Gatineau
  • Laval
  • Saint-Jerome
  • Joliette
  • Brassard
  • Saint-Hyacinthe
  • Granby

Step 5: Integration

When government-assisted refugees arrive at their final destination in Canada they will hook up with local services providing temporary housing, assistance finding a permanent home, counselling, language training and help getting government support.

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Government-assisted refugees will also get the full slate of medical care provided to Canadians on social assistance.

Privately sponsored refugees will be eligible for provincial health care but won’t get coverage for medications, emergency dental or eye care, prosthetics or similar services until the feds reinstate the Interim Federal Health Program cut in 2012.

No one has said when those cuts will be reversed.

READ MORE: Canada’s scrambling to resettle 25,000 Syrians but refugee health care may not be restored for ‘months’

Privately sponsored refugees are largely the financial responsibility of their sponsors for the duration of their sponsorship (usually about a year), and probably won’t get any social assistance.

Government-assisted refugees are eligible for monthly social assistance from the federal government for up to a year. They’re required to pay back the cost of their trip and their medical exam with interest.

READ MORE: No, Canada doesn’t spend more on refugees than pensioners

The government expects to spend between $564 million and $678 million on this program over six years – partly because refugees use settlement supports on average for about 39 months.

And are there still questions about how the process will work? Absolutely. The government has promised many more briefings to come.

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NOTE: Story updated Wednesday, Nov. 25 with an updated list of destination cities.

Updated again on Nov. 29 with a correction: Syrian refugees will not be required to repay the cost of their flight and medical exam, as originally stated.

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