'Many, many places in Canada' crying out for refugees: McCallum

To accommodate several cities that are requesting a temporary pause on the influx of refugees, the newly-arriving asylum seekers will be diverted to other parts of the country, the immigration minister said on Wednesday.

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He also said that it is important that the new arrivals are not moved to the front of the line for housing and social support.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum spoke to reporters on Wednesday, after giving an update on the resettlement process at The Canadian Club in Toronto.

He said the government is aware of the importance that the arriving refugees are not "jumping the queue" over others, or receiving more help in terms of housing and social support.

"On the one hand we want to welcome the refugees with open arms and make them comfortable and make them productive," McCallum said. "On the other hand we are aware that other Canadians may have been waiting a long time for social housing.

"We don't want to put the refugees at the front of a queue, where other Canadians have been lining up. We don't want to give them instant citizenship, when others have been waiting. They will have to join the queue like everybody else." Upon arriving in Canada, refugees are granted permanent residency.

The minister also addressed the request from several Canadian cities for a pause on the influx refugees.

Settlement agencies in Vancouver and Ottawa have asked for a temporary halt as they work to process the new arrivals and find housing for them.

McCallum said the refugees will be sent to other cities and towns that are ready and willing to take them in. "There are many, many places in Canada that are crying out for refugees," he said.

He said refugees can now be diverted to Quebec, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, which are all welcoming government-sponsored refugees.

He said he recently came back from the town of Hampton, N.B., where the community has two apartments ready and funds totalling $70,000 to help refugee families.

The minister recognized that housing the new arrivals in Canada's major urban centres is a challenge. However, he said, the government is stepping up to meet those challenges. He noted that the private sector has raised more than $20 million for the resettlement effort, much of which will be earmarked for rent subsidies.

"The flow from the airplanes is not slowing down at all," McCallum said. "But if certain towns or cities need a pause, there will be other places in Canada that will receive the refugees."

Since taking office last November, the Liberals have resettled more than 11,000 Syrian refugees. They have pledged to resettle 25,000 by the end of February.

Cologne-like mass sex assaults unlikely to happen in Canada

During his talk at The Canadian Club, the minister said the mass sexual assaults that took place on New Year's Eve in Cologne and stoked anti-refugee sentiment in Germany are unlikely to occur in Canada.

McCallum said there are big differences in the way refugees are coming into Canada compared to the way they're entering Germany.

Firstly, due to geography, Canada has the ability to pro-actively select and screen refugees destined for this country, he said. By contrast, asylum-seekers have largely been able to cross into Europe with little screening.

"Germany has had a million or more people just crossing their border, any people," he said. "Instead of a million, we have 25,000. And instead of anyone crossing our border, every single one of those 25,000 has been verified for security."

McCallum also noted that most of the refugees coming to Canada are families, rather than single males.

"It's a totally different context. We don't take anything for granted, but we think it is unlikely that there would be a repeat of that (Cologne) situation," he said.

The minister made his remarks a few weeks after a string of attacks on women were reported in Cologne, Germany.

More than 838 people have filed criminal complaints stemming from the attacks around the Cologne train station, including 497 women alleging sexual assault. The number of alleged crimes stands at 766, of which 381 are sexual offences, including three rapes, according to The Associated Press.

Descriptions of the perpetrators being men of "Arab or North African" origin have fanned anti-migrant sentiment in Germany. As of Monday, the number of people accused of committing crimes in the Cologne attacks stands at 21. A 26-year-old asylum-seeker of Algerian descent was arrested Monday. He is accused of groping a woman and robbing her cellphone.

With files from The Associated Press


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