Feds seek more cities to take Syrian refugees

But federal funds to sponsor refugees will run out next year

OTTAWA — More cities could see Syrian refugees sent their way but federal funds to help support them will only last until March 2017.

The influx of Syrian refugee arrivals has now forced agencies in at least three of the 36 destination cities for government-assisted refugees to request a break in the action to hire extra staff and find permanent homes for those who have already arrived before any more are cleared to arrive.

A fourth, Halifax, has asked for the pace of arrivals to slow down but not for a full stop, the Immigration Department confirmed late Wednesday.

But refugees who were bound for Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa will now remain in hotels for a few extra days, the department said.

Or they’ll be redirected, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

“The flow from the airplanes is not slowing down at all,” he said during a speech in Toronto.

“It’s just certain towns or cities need a pause. There will be other places in Canada who will receive the refugees.”

The federal government is actively seeking more cities to take in government-assisted Syrian refugees as part of the Liberal commitment to resettle 25,000 by the end of the year, on top of the 10,000 privately sponsored Syrians the Liberals say they are also aiming to accept.

Privately sponsored refugees’ needs are covered by their sponsors, but government-assisted refugees are taken care of by settlement groups which have agreements with the federal government.

The Immigration Department says as part of the $335 million budget to help integrate newly arrived Syrians, it is looking to expand existing settlement services, which includes opening centres in more cities or beefing up existing resources.

A call for proposals was posted online late last week and there have already been applications.

But the funding arrangements are designed to meet immediate and not long-term needs. The federal money will expire in March 2017.

“Communities that wish to continue to support the integration of refugees beyond March 2017 will have ways of doing so, such as community partnerships of service provider organizations with municipalities,” the department said in an e-mail.

It was not immediately clear whether those funds could be used to support government-assisted refugees coming from other parts of the world, although it is equally unknown how many of those the federal government could take this year or whether the Syrian program will dominate.

As of Jan. 19, 11,866 Syrians in total have arrived in Canada, of which 6,456 are government-assisted, 4,664 privately sponsored and 746 a blend of the two programs.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the pause on accepting new arrivals in some cities is a reflection of the poor planning that’s gone into the government’s program.

“We hope that these cities will be able to find housing for the refugees quickly and we hope that the Liberal government will step up to the plate with some better options for transitional housing and more support for municipalities,” she said.

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