Saskatchewan says refugee influx straining resources

REGINA -- Saskatchewan Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison says the arrival of nearly 600 Syrian refugees over the last couple of months is straining resources.

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Harrison says the province has been working hard with Ottawa, municipal governments and settlement agencies to make sure that refugees are set up to succeed. But he says that has "put some very real stress" on the system.

"We're seeing areas where our resources are being taxed," Harrison said Thursday at the legislature.

"We want to make sure that those (who) arrive, are here and are going to be successful here."

Harrison says some of the biggest demand is around English language training. There are a limited number of Arabic speakers who are able to work with newcomers, he said.

"We know one of the most significant determinants of success for new arrivals is language," he said.

"That's kind of your greatest determinant of your ability to attach to the labour market, to get a job. This one chokepoint particularly (is)where ... we're going to need additional resources for language training and we've communicated that with the government of Canada."

Saskatchewan is expected to take in a total of 850 refugees by the end of February.

Some cities, including Vancouver and Ottawa, are taking a break from accepting any more government-assisted Syrian refugees as settlement agencies try to work through housing issues. A surge of arrivals in the last month has filled temporary housing to capacity and settlement groups say they need time to move people into permanent homes before they can accept any new cases.

In Prince Albert, Sask., the government said the YWCA asked for a pause this week so that it could get caught up on moving people out of hotels and into apartments.

The pause applies to government-assisted refugees, those whose costs are covered entirely by the federal government. Upon arrival in Canada, they are sent to one of 36 cities that have resettlement agreements with the government.

Finding permanent places for refugees to live has been going well in Saskatchewan, said Harrison.

"We've been successful there, but in terms of speeding up the process, that's not something we're asking for right now."


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