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Syrian family happy to be in Canada

OTTAWA - A family of Syrian refugees who had to endure years of bureaucracy to get to Canada thanked the federal government on Thursday for opening doors to them.

The Al Dandashi family fled Syria in April 2012 and went to Lebanon, where they registered with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Their case was presented to Canadian officials in January 2014 and a week later, the Canadian embassy in Beirut contacted the family.

Two weeks ago, the family of five arrived in Laval, north of Montreal.

The family said Thursday they endured difficult conditions in Lebanon and Jasem Al Dandashi said he and his wife worried about the future of their three sons, now aged 23, 21 and 13.

The eldest, Mohamed, was jailed for 40 days in Syria.

"Now I look ahead and I see, God willing, a future as I dreamed for them," said Souhad Al Dandashi of her children during a telephone interview from Montreal.

Although the Canadian government has been accused of being too slow to welcome Syrian refugees, Jasem Al Dandashi was not critical as he spoke on the eve of World Refugee Day.

"The steps were not too long," said the patriarch.

The federal government is committed to sponsoring 200 refugees under UN protection by the end of the year and allowing the private sponsorship of 1,100 others, for a total of 1,300.

Since this promise was made, however, support groups have accused Ottawa of dragging its feet and setting onerous conditions for private sponsorships.

Faisal Alazem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council, maintained his position that Canada should admit more refugees.

"The criticism that I and the council and the community have is that the number of refugees is very small," he said as he joined with the Al Dandashis as they did media interviews.

"Two hundred is a very low number, especially since it is the largest refugee crisis that the Levant (and) the whole planet has ever seen."

The Levant refers to the Eastern Mediterranean region which includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and part of southern Turkey.

He called on the Canadian government to respond to the request made last month by the UN High Commission for it to take in more than 5,000 refugees.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was visibly irritated when pressed on the matter in Ottawa on Thursday.

The experience of the Al Dandashis prompted Alexander to point the finger at the High Commission for slowing down the process.

"As I've already told you, the High Commission hasn't resettled 1,600 Syrian refugees in the entire world, in 16 countries, including Canada," Alexander said.

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