Canada's Conservative government pledged on Saturday to speed up the processing of refugee applications from Syrians and Iraqis, an issue on which it has been criticized by political opponents as it heads into an Oct. 19 election.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Canada would designate Syrians who have fled the conflict there as "prima facie" refugees, rather than waiting for a United Nations agency to formally process them.
Canada will also deploy more immigration officials to handle applications, take steps to facilitate private sponsorship and work to ensure the vast majority of applications from Syrians and Iraqis are processed within six months, he said.
"These measures will ensure that thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees will have reached Canada by the end of 2015," Alexander told reporters in Toronto.
"Our existing commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrians will be complete a full 15 months earlier than originally anticipated."
Canada's Conservative government came under fire earlier this month after it emerged that the British Columbia-based aunt of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach had hoped to help the family emigrate to Canada.
The center-left opposition Liberals and New Democrats have railed against Canada's slow refugee process and pledged to do more to accept additional refugees from the war in Syria if they win power next month.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson, Editing by Franklin Paul)