600 refugees crammed into Toronto hotel despite waiting sponsors

A Toronto hotel has become home to more than 600 government-sponsored Syrian refugees, leaving them feeling squeezed, while Canadians living in the hotel say they’re being pushed out to make room for more.

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And it’s all despite the fact that private refugee sponsor groups say they are prepared to take on these government-sponsored refugees, but have been turned away.

Refugee Ali Hamoud and his 12 children have been living in the Toronto Plaza Hotel for three weeks. He managed to find a house, but said it was too expensive, so he will continue to stay in the hotel.

Ghassan Al Kakouni, his wife and three children are finally moving into a Mississauga, Ont., apartment after a month in the hotel.

Al Kakouni said that hotel residents are thankful for all the help they have received with things like English and health care, but that the close quarters are creating tensions for some of the families.

Immigration minister John McCallum said Tuesday that connecting government-sponsored refugees with private sponsor groups prepared to receive them "definitely makes sense,” but added “there are some other issues involved.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday that her government had approached the federal government to ask them to do just that.

Humaira Khan, from the Toronto-area charity Partners in Humanity, said there are 100 sponsor groups ready to be matched with Syrian families, so they could help get 500 people out of the hotel.

“They are safe here, they are warm here, they are being fed,” she said of the hotel. “But they need to start their lives. The children need to go to school.”

Hotel resident Brian McIssac said that seeing them move on could help him too, since the hotel has asked him to vacate the room he’s lived in for a year and a half.

“Why did Mr. Trudeau bring in all these people and start throwing out Canadians, into the street?” he said, adding other residents have also been asked to move.

“I have nothing against these people, but why should we have to leave?”

The owner of the hotel restaurant said she too would like to see the refugees find permanent housing as soon as possible.

Manjit Sangh said her regular customers have stopped coming and that she has not been compensated.

“It’s really slow,” she said.

The influx of refugees has put such pressure on the tight rental markets that settlement agencies in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa have requested the government slow down the intake. So far, however, they have refused.

More housing is also available at military bases in Ontario but that has not yet been used.

A total of 13,764 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada between Nov. 4 and Jan 25, of which 7,926 are government-assisted, 4,985 are privately sponsored and 853 are in a blended program, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

With a report from CTV National’s Peter Akman


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