Refugee advocacy groups are praising Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year — but say it may be an impossible task.
About 50 representatives for organizations involved in the resettling of refugees met with federal immigration officials on Tuesday.
Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, was involved via conference call and said he “applauded” Trudeau’s plan, but stressed that the country may not have the “ability to properly support” the massive influx of refugees in the “short timeframe.”
“It really is impossible from our perspective, and working on the ground for many years, to pull this off before the end of December,” Friesen said in an appearance on CTV’s Power Play.
“We just want more time to be able to do a better and more thorough job in helping Syrians rebuild their lives in this country.”
Friesen says that his organization would prefer that the incoming government take a “step back” and push the timeline to accept the 25,000 refugees in line with a December 2016 target from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
This extension will give agencies more of a chance to adequately prepare to handle the added burden and “to properly support and settle these refugees into this country,” said Friesen.
“Having additional time to adequately support 25,000 additionally Syrian refugees … will lead to better settlement outcomes and that was our key message to government officials this morning,” he added.
Friesen stressed that their arrival across the country will require permanent rental accommodations, trauma treatment, counselling and other services.
He said that more than two thirds of Syrian refugees will require some form of mental health intervention and support.
Other services have long waitlists, including adult English Second Language classes, which Friesen says range between six to 10 months.
Last week, Trudeau said he remained committed to bringing the 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of the year.
“I know this is a surprise to certain people within the political universe, but the commitments I made in that platform, I’m going to keep,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau sidestepped the issue when he was asked Tuesday at a meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“We’ll have lots to say, the cabinet’s being sworn in next week,” he said.
But in an email to CTV News, Trudeau’s communications director, Kate Purchase, reiterated that the incoming government will achieve its goal.
“We remain confident that we can meet the target and have had good briefings with officials,” said Purchase.
Friesen said that while it would be possible to use military resources to quickly extract refugees from the Middle East, the government should instead focus on cases that involve family reunification.
“That’s something we should all get behind and ensure that families are reunited before the end of this year as the number 1 priority,” said Friesen.
In contrast, immigration lawyer Jennifer Bond commended Trudeau for his “bold commitment” and said that it was “desperately needed in Canada after years of inaction.”
“I think we can do it,” Bond, who is behind the University of Ottawa’s Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, told CTV’s Power Play.
“I feel confident that this is a country that can rise to this challenge. We have the resources and if we have the commitment, I think we can do it.”
Despite her confidence in the country’s ability to support 25,000 refugees, Bond stressed that it would not be a “failure” if they came up short and that they can come in the months to follow.
“The important thing to recognize is that it is a moment of international crisis we need to be moving as quickly as we can to get people to safety,” she said.
Bond said she was in Belgrade, Serbia, earlier this month and saw thousands of refugees “facing life-and-death decisions” as they made their way across the continent.
While she agreed with Friesen that it is important to prepare for the short and long-term settlement of refugees, as well as focus on family reunification, she said the “top priority has to be getting people to safety.”
“I think the severity of the crisis can’t be overstated,” she said.
“We’re heading into winter, we’re heading into a moment where people are going to be dying of cold.”
As of last month, Canada has accepted 2,300 Syrian since the federal government opened its doors to refugees from that country in 2013.
Data from United Nations shows that, as of last week, there were more than 4 million Syrian refugees registered and seeking resettlement.