Canada Divided as 25,000 Syrian Refugees Settle In

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken to Twitter to say about the Syrian refugees debate: "Canadians have shown the best of our country in welcoming refugees. That spirit won't be diminished by fear and hate." REUTERS/Chris Wattie

TORONTO, Feb 20 – Canadians remain divided about the resettlement of Syrian refugees, with some saying Canada should accept more despite a series of racist incidents that have marred a mostly smooth arrival of nearly 25,000 migrants, a poll showed on Friday.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in October on a promise to accept more Syrian refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government had allowed, but the original deadline for accepting 25,000 by the end of 2015 proved too ambitious and the timeline was extended by two months.

During his election campaign, Trudeau said a Liberal government would work with private sponsors to accept “even more” than the immediate goal of 25,000, and Immigration Minister John McCallum said in December the government could double the intake to 50,000 by the end of 2016.

A poll by the Angus Reid Institute released on Friday showed 52 percent of Canadians support the plan to resettle 25,000 refugees before the end of February, while 44 percent opposed the program.

The poll also showed that 42 percent of respondents want Canada to stop taking in Syrian refugees, while 29 percent said Canada should stop at 25,000 and 29 percent said the country should accept even more.

Some 21,672 Syrian refugees – sponsored by both private citizens and the government – have arrived in Canada since November, dispersing into more than 200 communities, according to the Immigration Department.

While the arrival has been smooth for privately sponsored refugees supported by families or community groups, hundreds of government-sponsored refugees have struggled to find housing and remain in hotels in Toronto, where the housing market is tight and expensive.

There has also been a scattering of racist incidents, including one last week in which graffiti was sprayed on a school in the western Canadian city of Calgary urging “Syrians go home and die” and “kill the traitor Trudeau.”

The prime minister responded on Twitter: “Canadians have shown the best of our country in welcoming refugees. That spirit won’t be diminished by fear and hate.”

In January, a group of Syrian refugees were pepper-sprayed by a cyclist in Vancouver, an attack Trudeau also condemned on Twitter.

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