Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I join the debate on this topic. In particular, I acknowledge and thank the hon. member for Ahuntsic for her ongoing interest in immigration matters. I have listened with great interest to her views and concerns. Though we might differ on a number of issues, I know we share a common belief in the vital role that immigration has played and continues to play in the social fabric of our wonderful country, Canada.
At the outset, I would like to once again reiterate the fundamental and unwavering commitment that the Prime Minister and the government have made toward better supporting outcomes for newcomers to Canada to ensure they can fully integrate and contribute to our communities and economy.
The hon. member has raised a specific question and concern over people living in Lebanon who are applying for permanent residence in Canada and who must do so through the Canadian Embassy in Damascus, Syria.
I would like to take this opportunity to outline the extensive presence of Canada's offices in support of the commitment we have made to the Middle Eastern region regarding immigration to Canada.
Canada has an extensive presence in the world and in the Middle East and it tries to ensure as much reasonable access as possible.
The minister, in his last appearance before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, left the committee with the message that there was a greater need for a focus on improving outcomes for clients of the department.
The regional processing centre in Damascus, Syria, is Canada's largest in the Middle East. It currently is supported by 11 Canada-based officers, one migration integrity officer and 36 locally engaged staff. The decision to locate the processing centre in Damascus was based on its relative stability and infrastructure.
The majority of the centre's clientele are either Iranian or Lebanese. In the two years, 2003 to 2005, 41% of the permanent resident applications received at this centre were from Iranian citizens, 23% from Lebanese residents and 15% of the applicants were made by Iraqi citizens.
However, I would also like to point out that our Damascus processing centre is directly supported by satellite missions in Beirut, Lebanon, Tehran, Iran, and Amman, Jordan. These vital satellite missions process applications for study and work permits and documents relating to permanent resident travel.
Our office in Amman, Jordan, performs immigrant interviews on behalf of the Damascus processing centre for sponsored spouses and children from Iraq and Jordan.
The satellite office in Beirut, Lebanon, processes all types of temporary resident applications, as well as those for permanent resident travel documents. It also performs immigrant interviews on behalf of the regional processing centre in Damascus for sponsored spouses and children from Lebanon. In most cases, there is no need for an interviewee to travel outside of Lebanon.
Recent world events, such as has been mentioned by the hon. member, have led many representatives and family members of Lebanese applicants to express concerns about the need to travel to Damascus for interviews.
Our officials in Damascus have verified with clients that there have been no difficulties crossing the border between Lebanon and Syria. We have been monitoring the situation very closely for some time, and will continue to do so. This approach is consistent with and reflects our policies and actions in regard to supporting those wishing to immigrate to Canada from the Middle East.
I hope I provided some beneficial contribution to the proceedings tonight.