More staff going to help process Syria refugees, says minister

Staff will go overseas to work through hundreds of applications submitted by private groups, says McCallum

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

OTTAWA – Talks with the military to provide assistance in bringing thousands more Syrian refugees to Canada are under way as the Liberal government appears to be spooling up efforts to make good on a promise to private sponsorship groups.

Existing and retired staff from the Immigration Department are set to head overseas this month to begin working through hundreds of applications submitted by private groups across the country, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

“We’re doing everything we can to honour our commitment to deliver the refugees who had been applied for by March 30,” McCallum said.

McCallum committed to private groups to bring as many as 10,000 Syrians by the end of this year or early next, a response to the outcry that erupted when the government’s massive Syrian refugee resettlement program ended and the processing of applications returned to a far slower pace.

Hundreds of groups protested, saying they’d raising thousands of dollars, rented apartments and lined up other supports for Syrians under the assumption that while the large-scale airlifts might be over, helping Syrians would remain a top priority for government.

The fact it was now going to take more than a year to bring people over left many groups frustrated.

The government had resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada between November and the end of February by deploying hundreds of staff overseas to process applications, including members of the Canadian Forces who helped handled medical and security screening.

What role the military could play in the second round hasn’t been decided, McCallum said.

“I don’t know if military people will go back or not but we’re in close conservation with them and certainly people from my department, and some retired people, are going to be doing back certainly this month,” he said.

Officials at the Department of National Defence said they couldn’t comment on what they’re prepared to contribute.

Since the end of February, 1,859 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada _ at one point, that number was arriving in just a few days as part of the Liberal commitment.

But one of the major problems created by the surge in arrivals under that commitment appears to be easing: about 93 per cent of government assisted refugees brought to Canada by the Liberals are now in permanent housing.

In Ottawa, that milestone was reached on April 14 and now the focus is moving to making sure people can keep the homes they’ve found.

“Newcomer families are already disproportionately represented in our family shelter system,” said Carl Nicholson, executive director of Catholic Centre for Immigrants.

“So it’s absolutely critical that we invest in helping this newest and biggest community of newcomers avoid the need for shelter support.”

His and two other Ottawa agencies received a $450,000 grant Wednesday from Community Foundations of Canada Welcome Fund for Refugees, a fund seeded by corporate donations from Manulife, CN and GM.

Some of the money will go towards rent subsidies and the rest for mental health initiatives and programs to help Syrians find jobs.