More Canadian cities offer help to resettle Syrian refugees
Newly-arrived Syrian refugee Anjilik Jaghlassian, centre, and her family receive winter clothes and other items at Pearson International airport, in Toronto, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Nathan Denette)
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 18, 2016 5:37PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 19, 2016 6:55PM EST
OTTAWA -- As some cities take a breather from resettling government-assisted Syrian refugees, others say their doors are open -- if the federal government asks and also offers to pay.
While the home communities for refugees with private sponsors is dictated by where those sponsors are, refugees whose costs are covered entirely by the federal government are sent to just 36 cities.
Not included is Victoria -- the lone provincial capital that isn't an official reception centre for government-assisted refugees. The only Syrians arriving there as part of the Liberals' Syrian program are those whose costs are split between the government and private sponsors, as well as those coming thanks to private sponsors alone.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she told the federal immigration minister even before the Liberal program was unveiled that her city was interested in taking in Syrians but is still waiting.
"We are ready. The church, the school board, the credit union, private donors, private families, we're ready," she said.
The reason Victoria isn't on the list dates back to the late 1980s when the federal government got out of the business of providing direct support to the refugees it was resettling and began contracting out to local agencies.
In British Columbia, the city with the highest number of those was Metro Vancouver so that's where government-assisted refugees all go to this day.
But looking at some of the other cities on the list -- like Medicine Hat., Alta., or Moose Jaw. Sask., -- raises the question of why Victoria isn't there now.
"We are bigger than a lot of the centres that settle (them) now," said Jean McRae, the director of Victoria's Intercultural Association. "We'd have to rebuild the capacity but we're totally capable of doing that."
Of the 25,000 Syrians set to arrive by the end of next month, the Liberals have said 15,000 would be government-assisted. A further 10,000 government-assisted are to arrive by the end of this year.
But right now, Vancouver has asked the federal government to temporarily halt sending new government-assisted refugees their way as they work through a housing shortage. Ottawa has also made the same request.
In Ontario, there are six cities that serve as destination points for government-assisted Syrian refugees. With most of the services refugees need only available in the southern parts of the province it makes some sense that none are settled beyond there, said Deborah Robertson, the executive director of the North Bay and District Multicultural Centre.
But with the right funding, there's no reason her community couldn't welcome more, she said.
"I think the interest is absolutely there, it's there from the centre and from the community and the community has proven that in the way they've responded to this current crisis," she said.
Volunteers there have raised over $60,000 to help Syrian refugees being sponsored by private groups.
Alan Caslin, chair of the Niagara Region of 12 different municipalities in Ontario, says his area would be interested as well. His office donated $25,000 to help private groups bring in Syrians.
"It would fit consistent with what we're trying to do with the $25,000 we did donate from my office as well as our strategic plan of trying to develop growth in Niagara," he said.
The federal government is looking to expand their network, but it was not immediately clear whether that means new cities could be added to the list of destination communities or if they'll just set up new reception centres in existing ones.
A call for proposals was published last week looking for new receiving centres, which would be responsible for providing temporary accommodation to newly-arrived Syrians, helping them learn the basics of getting health care and social benefits, and in general supporting their transition into Canadian society.