Most of the Syrian refugees being welcomed to Canada under the federal Liberals’ expedited plan will land in Montreal or Toronto and its suburbs and the vast majority of them will be privately sponsored, says a Nov. 19 government snapshot of approved applications obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has 2,400 Syrians slated to arrive in Montreal proper and more than 2,700 people headed for the Greater Toronto Area. Those two cities are home to two-thirds of the 40,000 Canadians of Syrian origin.
In the first wave, to arrive within weeks, 9,400 refugees on the list are joining the family members or religious and community groups that sponsored them, with only 1,750 getting some form of government help. Ottawa promised that 10,000 Syrian refugees would enter the country by year’s end and pledged to sponsor the majority of another 15,000 Syrians to be settled by the end of February.
The government report’s list of communities across the country where the refugees will land skews heavily toward Ontario and Quebec, with roughly 200 headed to B.C. and less than a thousand settling in the Prairies.
About two thirds of those arriving in Montreal are Syrians of Armenian origin who are joining a strong immigrant community that has ties to the city dating back several decades, according to Stephan Reichhold, director of la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, an umbrella group of 100 agencies serving newcomers to Quebec. Another 628 refugees are scheduled to live in nearby Laval.
“We don’t see much of them – they arrive, they’re picked up by their sponsor group from the airport and then they disappear from our radar,” said Mr. Reichhold, who noted he does see some privately sponsored Syrian refugees when they access free language courses.
Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal, said this “huge uptick” in refugees will put a strain on the sponsor groups and families of Montreal. In the coming months, the Quebec government plans to settle all government-assisted Syrians outside of this region because so many privately sponsored asylum seekers gravitate to Montreal, he added.
Toronto, which is home to 20 per cent of all Syrian Canadians, is slated to receive 1,491 refugees, but the small north-end neighbourhood of Willowdale will get another 1,127 on its own, according to the government data. London, Scarborough and Ottawa are the only other communities in Ontario scheduled to receive more than 100 Syrians by the end of this year.
On the coasts, both Vancouver and its suburb New Westminster will get 52 people each while 46 are slated to settle in Halifax. The only other cities in Canada expecting hundreds of refugees in the next month are Calgary (439) and Edmonton (285).
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the welcoming party at the city’s international airport this week ensured the refugees’ first interaction with Canada “was a beautiful one.”
“We have seen extraordinary things,” Mr. Nenshi told reporters this week. “The No. 1 question I’ve been hearing since it became clear that Canada was going to settle more Syrian refugees is the exact same question – over and over and over again, every day – ‘How can I help?’”
Of the people slated to arrive this year, another 1,439 Syrians will enter the country on the government’s Blended Visa Office-Referred Program, which matches private sponsors with refugees after they have been identified by the UNHCR. The government lists 1,047 of these blended visa holders as going to unspecified locations, because they have not yet been matched with sponsors.
Refugees who enter through this program, which was started in 2013, get up to six months of financial support from the government. The other half of the year is paid by their private sponsors, who provide up to a year of emotional and social support.
Only 311 of the people slated to arrive in Canada by the end of this year are sponsored solely by the government, according to the document obtained by The Globe. Government-assisted refugees receive full support from Canada or Quebec for up to a year or until they are able to support themselves.
A forum in Toronto this weekend will draw more than 100 groups from across the country, including representatives of federal, provincial and municipal governments, to develop a road map for providing the influx of refugees with adequate housing, health and mental health services, child and youth care and help with finding a job.
With a report from Kelly CrydermanReport Typo/Error