Red Cross racing to prep military bases for Syrian refugees

OTTAWA -- Refugee agencies and the Red Cross are racing to line up housing for thousands of Syrians in the coming weeks as the focus of the Liberal government's program shifts from refugees with private sponsors to those assisted by the government alone.

See Full Article

Three military bases in Ontario and Quebec should be ready by the end of next week to provide essential services for government-assisted refugees, said Hossam Elsharkawi, associate vice president, international operations for the Canadian Red Cross.

"We are not able at this stage to quite understand how many weeks they will stay at these centres, but at least these centres will have the capacity of three to four thousand refugees," he said,

"If we need to grow that to larger, we will."

So far, the bases haven't had to be used in part because privately sponsored refugees -- representing about 10,000 of the 25,000 Syrians the Liberals say they will bring to Canada by the end of February -- have groups arranging housing. Those refugees formed the majority of the first wave of resettlement.

But with arrivals set to spool up in the remaining seven weeks of the program, especially those of government-assisted refugees, finding enough temporary housing has become an urgent issue.

Over the course of a normal year, Canada takes in about 7,000 government-assisted refugees, sent to one of the 36 cities with agreements in place to provide support services paid for by the federal government.

In many of these cities, organizations run residences that can handle a few hundred people at most for a few weeks while they search for more permanent housing.

Government-assisted refugees often arrive in clusters, but having 15,000 of them coming in the space of three months is overwhelming.

Regina usually receives about 215 government-assisted refugees a year but is preparing to handle 348 by the end of February.

"It's not too much more, but in the span of two months we are getting almost double what we get in a year, " said Getachew Woldeyesus of the Regina Open Door Society. "The pressure is not the number but it is the time frame."

Still, the extension of the original government deadline to resettle all 25,000 by the end of last year gave the group time to secure 300 apartments, thanks to the generosity of landlords and a lot of leg work.

As of Jan. 6, 6,974 Syrians had arrived in Canada. Currently, the overflow in other cities has been managed by accommodating people in hotels or motels.

Military bases are the option of last resort, said Debbie Douglas, executive director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

"It's difficult to have folks come from one camp into another military setting," she said.

Since the start of the program, military bases were eyed for housing needs, but neither the Defence Department nor the Immigration Department would elaborate Friday on the plan to use them.

CFB Kingston and CFB Valcartier have always been at the top of the list, followed by Meaford, Petawawa, Trenton and Borden.

"Due to the many factors influencing if and when a refugee will have to go to an (interim lodging site), it is premature to speculate on the scale of possible operations," Faith St. John, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department wrote in an e-mail.

Refugee agencies currently provide daily updates to the government on how many beds they have and some of the resettlement funding already allocated by the Liberals has gone to securing more space to avoid the use of bases.

A national shortage of affordable housing, especially in major cities, will make securing long-term housing for all refugees a challenge.

Several real estate firms have offered apartments, including Calgary-based Mainstreet Equities. It initially said it would provide up to 200 discounted apartments but is now looking at raising that number, said company president Bob Dhillon.

Prior to the end of 2015, there had been little interest in his offer but in recent days his office has been fielding dozens of calls.

"When somebody newly arrives into Canada, you can make their lives by offering a little assistance," he said. "That first home is everything."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson in Turkey for talks

    World News CTV News
    ANKARA, Turkey -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Turkish officials on Thursday discussed ways to co-ordinate the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, a day after Turkey said it has ended a military operation in northern Syria. Source
  • Syrian refugees top 5 million mark, UN refugee agency says

    World News CTV News
    GENEVA - The number of Syrians who have fled their country after six years of war has surpassed the 5 million mark, the UN refugee agency said Thursday. UNHCR announced the milestone a year after participating countries at a Geneva conference pledged to "resettle and facilitate pathways for 500,000 refugees" from Syria - but that only half of those places have been allocated so far. Source
  • 'Did we come here to fight?' Listen to this Vimy vet, who took a bullet to the head

    Canada News CTV News
    Like many teenagers, Bill Harrison was determined to fight in the First World War, even if it meant lying about his age. But the brave young man ended up leaving the war with a bullet in his brain. Source
  • Xi Jinping to meet with Trump in Mar-a-Lago in early April

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump will meet for the first time on April 6-7 at the latter's Florida resort, China's foreign ministry announced Thursday. The future relationship between the world's No. Source
  • Conservative drop-off deadline approaches — but does anyone want out?

    Canada News CBC News
    If any of the 14 candidates running for the Conservative leadership are thinking of dropping out and keeping their name off the ballot, they will soon need to make up their minds. But with a midnight deadline looming on Friday, it doesn't seem that anyone is throwing in the towel just yet. Source
  • 'Very depressing': CIBC staff losing jobs to workers in India, expected to help with training

    Canada News CBC News
    CIBC is eliminating up to 130 jobs in its Toronto finance department and outsourcing the work to India. As part of the transition, staff losing their positions must train other local CIBC employees. Those employees then train the workers in India who will be taking over the jobs. Source
  • 'They are scared': CP workers say rookie engineers ill-prepared for dangerous job

    Canada News CBC News
    High in the mountains of southeastern B.C., the conductor of a 25,000-tonne Canadian Pacific Railway freight train pulling 2.5 kilometres of cars loaded with potash got a bad feeling. Headed west to Revelstoke, the train had just cleared a tunnel and was starting to build momentum downhill when he turned to the engineer, the man operating the massive vehicle, and said: "You know we're tippin' over here?" Source
  • U.S. internet service providers get green light to sell user data — but what about Canada?

    Canada News CBC News
    Privacy protections designed to prevent U.S. internet service providers from sharing or selling subscribers' personal information with third parties — without permission — were dismantled by U.S. Congress on Tuesday. It means that information about the apps American internet subscribers use, the websites they visit, and the things they purchase online — among other things — can potentially be tracked, shared, and monetized by third parties, unless those users opt out. Source
  • Federal Court orders public safety minister to make decision in immigration case

    Canada News CBC News
    In a withering ruling, the Federal Court has ordered Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to make up his mind on a politically sensitive immigration case. The decision from Chief Justice Paul Crampton also makes it clear the minister is obliged to make decisions in a reasonable time frame, no matter how busy he is. Source
  • How will we know when police have earned their way back to Toronto Pride?: Robyn Urback

    Canada News CBC News
    If we accept that uniformed police officers should be banned from Pride parades in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa because of their history of persecution of racialized, gay and other minority communities, as some local Black Lives Matter (BLM) groups and their supporters contend, then a number of other groups should likewise be prohibited from joining the festivities. Source