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Canada is 'committed' to welcoming 25,000 refugees by the end of the year

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Chris Wattie/Reuters

(Read caption) Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, Nov. 9, 2015.

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In a major shift in policy, Canada’s newly elected liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, or roughly 500 refugees a day.

It’s an ambitious move, and a startling number for Canada, whose former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policy was to accept 10,000 refugees per year.

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"We’re committed to do this fast, but we’re also committed to do it right, to do it well," John McCallum, minister of immigration, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 

By contrast, Germany is letting in roughly 800,000 new arrivals while Hungary, Slovenia, and Austria have erected border walls; Lebanon is host to roughly 1.1 million Syrian refugees, while Turkey is sheltering almost 2.2 million

While the Canadian government is still working through the plan, including preparing a budget and security procedures, a grassroots organization – composed of hundreds of companies, citizens, and NGOs across the country – are building a support system for fresh arrivals.

Top priorities are organizing housing, healthcare, and transportation, along with a laundry list of other amenities needed by refugees. Air Canada has offered to send commercial planes to Istanbul and Beirut to cart refugees back to Canada. The plan is to relocate refugees "safely and quickly" before the encroaching winter, when temperatures in Eastern Europe can drop to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Every option is on the table," Minister McCallum told reporters. "Whatever works, what is cost effective, whatever will get them here safely and quickly." 

Individuals and small businesses are creating their own contributions to the widespread effort. In Toronto, a private doctor has started rotating clinics strictly for refugees, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress. In Ottawa, health care workers have been working on similar efforts to provide medical and mental health assistance.

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The Syrian refugee crisis has rapidly become "the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II," with over 4 million Syrians displaced from their homes since 2011. Many are sill making their way to Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly insisted Germany will not close its doors to any seeking asylum.

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"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for," Ms. Merkel said at the end of August. Many German citizens have reacted like the Canadians, creating innovative systems to organize and distribute resources. One Berlin startup created a digital map of resources in Germany including language courses, mental health facilities, health care, police stations, and shelters.

Syria isn’t the only country with millions of displaced persons. Worldwide, over 59.5 million people are claiming refugee status – a number large enough to create the 25th largest country in the world.

The United Nations continues to call for more action.

"Too many vulnerable refugees are languishing in countries neighboring Syria, caught in a downward spiral of poverty and risk as they struggle to meet their basic needs,” said António Guterres, the UN's high commissioner for refugees. "We need many more ambitious programs like [Canada’s] to offer Syrians a chance to start their lives anew."