Three more Canadian cities will start resettling Syrian refugees in an effort to alleviate the burden on municipalities already struggling to house them, bringing the total number of cities and towns outside Quebec accepting the newcomers to 27.
Leamington and Peterborough, both in Ontario, and Brooks, Alta., will start accepting Syrian refugees, according to a government announcement on Wednesday. The cities were selected after a recent call for proposals to identify new temporary resettlement assistance centres and expand the number of cities across Canada where the refugees can be sent. Victoria was also recently added to the list.
Some of Canada's largest cities have at times been overwhelmed by the influx of newcomers. Last month, Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa asked the federal government to stop sending more Syrian refugees their way for a few days as they found housing for the large number of people who had already arrived.
"[In] some parts of Canada, 80 per cent or more [Syrian refugees] have received permanent housing, but the lowest number are Toronto and Vancouver, the two biggest cities, and that is why we are enlisting other cities and towns to be more active in British Columbia, in Ontario, to reduce the pressure on those two cities," Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said on Wednesday.
Mr. McCallum said this week that nearly half of the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada – 48 per cent – are still without permanent housing. However, he said that number isn't surprising, as it is expected that refugees will live in temporary housing before finding permanent accommodation.
The government also has no plans to use military bases to house Syrian refugees any time soon. "Things have gone well enough that we do not need military bases, or we're almost certain we don't need military bases," Mr. McCallum said.
Early on in its mandate, the Liberal government promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, but was forced to extend that deadline by two months to the end of February. Mr. McCallum said on Wednesday that the government still plans on meeting its deadline.
According to a government website on Wednesday, 23,394 Syrian refugees had arrived to date. An additional 4,242 people have been approved, but have not yet travelled to Canada.
The government will continue to resettle Syrian refugees throughout the year. While the minister has previously said the government hopes to settle a total of 35,000 to 50,000 by the end of 2016, he said the exact number – "in that ballpark" – will be outlined in the government's annual immigration targets, expected by March 9.
Out of that total, 25,000 are expected to be government-sponsored refugees. To date, 13,439 government-assisted Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Department officials said less than 10 per cent of them speak English or French, while privately sponsored Syrian refugees are more likely to speak either or both official languages.
"I was in the airport in Beirut seeing a flight depart in January," a department official said. "It was a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored, and I was able to have conversations in both English and French with the privately sponsored families. Not so much with the government-assisted."