The Canadian government said Thursday it had welcomed more than 6,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, falling short of its pledge to take in 10,000 but vowing to meet that target next month.
New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had initially promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by December 31.
But his Liberal government then pushed the target date to end-February, following criticism it was moving too fast amid security concerns in the aftermath of deadly attacks in Paris as well as logistical issues.
The interim target of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end was set in late November. But as of Thursday, with the arrival of three charter planes carrying about 800 refugees, the total stood at slightly more than 6,000.
“I am confident that a full 10,000 refugees would have landed in two weeks by mid-January and also that 25,000 would have arrived in Canada by the end of February,” Immigration Minister John McCallum told reporters.
Beyond the 6,000 Syrians already on Canadian soil, another 4,700 are already cleared for arrival, McCallum said.
Health Minister Jane Philpott noted: “Had we not set such incredibly audacious goals, I know, I can tell you, we would not be where we are today.”
Earlier in December, Trudeau personally welcomed the first group to arrive at Toronto airport aboard a military transport plane.
But the leftist opposition New Democratic Party on Thursday lamented that the government had failed to reach its initial goal of resettling 25,000 refugees by year’s end.
The migrant crisis in Europe emerged on Canada’s campaign trail in 2015 following intense media coverage of the death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body on a beach in Turkey became a symbol of the crisis.
Relatives of Kurdi arrived this week in Canada, where they hope to rebuild their lives.
Canada takes in an average of 250,000 refugees from around the world each year.
The UN refugee agency estimates that more than four million Syrians have fled the civil war ravaging their country. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the total number of dead at more than 260,000 people.