Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is travelling across the country to talk to provincial and civic leaders about the plan to settle 25,000 refugees from Syria over the next few months.
The Trudeau government has promised to bring in 10,000 refugees by the end of 2015 and another 15,000 early next year.
Immigration Minister John McCallum met with Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour on Wednesday in Calgary to discuss the strategy.
McCallum is travelling across the country to publicly acknowledge the contribution Canadians are making to the initiative and to encourage others to do the same.
“My purpose in this trip was two-fold. One, I want to honour and make public the contributions of Canadians who are really stepping up to the plate to help out on this national project, which is the refugees from Syria. And I want to honour them because they should be honoured but I also want to do that to encourage others to step up to the plate,” said McCallum.
He says the top priority is to ensure there is housing for the newcomers.
“When the executives of Canada said what’s your priority? I said well we have three priorities, housing, housing and housing.”
Mainstreet Equity Corp says it will offer a minimum of 200 apartments with 90 days of free rent or discounted rent for a year to help out.
“We are putting together a dedicated task force, a hotline with Arabic speaking Mainstreet team members to help with logistics, settling in and whatever else we can do to help,” said Bob Dhillon, from Mainstreet.
Dhillon says they may increase the number of units allocated to refugees if more are needed.
Boardwalk Rental Communities has also put together a plan to partner with local agencies and will make at least 350 units available at a discount of $150 per month.
Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour for Alberta, says the province has been working on a plan for a while to ensure it is ready to take in the refugees.
“We have a cross-ministerial team that is working on making sure the people coming will have access to good public education, health care, housing,” she said. “We are stepping up and doing the right thing and supporting the Syrian refugees so they have a welcoming place so that their needs are taken care of and addressing this obviously humanitarian tragedy that’s going on in the world today.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city welcomes about 1000 refugees each year and he is satisfied the right procedures are in place to bring the Syrian refugees to Canada and Calgary but there is still some work to be done once they arrive.
“It’s really, really important that we make sure that people have stable, decent roofs over their head upon arrival. We’ve got a great plan, we still need a little more funding to make that plan work, but I think that we can handle that and ensure that people have the best opportunities when they start. We will also have concerns with language training to make sure that people have to pick up English language skills in order to be able to integrate into the workplace. An important thing to remember is that Syria is a middle-income country so by-and-large the people who are coming here are not desperately poor, they’re educated people who had careers at home and integrating them into the workplace here to give them the best possible start in life is going to be very important as well,” said Nenshi.
Nenshi says he expects most families will only need help with the rent for about six to nine months and that Calgary ranks third of the 36 cities across the country in terms of private sponsorship.
The province says Alberta will welcome about 850 refugees by the end of the year and says of those 800 are sponsored privately and 50 are government sponsored.
Minister McCallum will be taking his message to Vancouver next and says Canada could take in as many as 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.