B.C. Premier Christy Clark has announced $1-million in funding to help Syrian refugees settling in the province, including a 1-800 number to help navigate bureaucracy, saying the province wants more immigrants.
"We all have been watching with broken hearts what's been unfolding in Syria ... and the impact of the war on so many individuals," said Clark.
The issue was "brought home" for British Columbians in the story of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, whose aunt lives in Coquitlam, B.C. The three-year-old's body was photographed washed up on a beach in Turkey after he drowned with his mother and brother trying to escape to Europe, renewing worldwide attention on the ongoing Syrian tragedy.
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"A tiny little figure on the beach," said Clark, holding back tears.
"We have a uniquely Canadian duty to share the luck ... and make sure that children and families like Alan Kurdi's find their way to Canada, so they don't have to face that kind of distress, that kind of loss."
Kurdi's aunt, Tima, had wanted to bring both of her brothers' families from Syria to Canada, but her first responsorship application, for Alan Kurdi's uncle, was returned as incomplete.
'We are ready' for refugees, says premier
The fund will be used to help Syrian refugees and make it easier for people sponsoring them, including money for employers to train refugees, trauma counseling, and a toll-free number — 1-877-952-6914 — to help private sponsors work through the immigration system.
The B.C. government will work with settlement agencies, churches and community groups to figure out exactly where the money is needed, said the premier.
"I'm just here to say, we are ready" for more immigrants, said Clark.
"Clearly British Columbians are saying they would like more Syrian refugees to be part of the mix."
Several other provinces have also announced increased efforts to help Syrian refugees in the past week, including Quebec, which yesterday said it would triple refugee sponsorships. Direct provincial sponsorship of refugees is not possible in B.C., said Clark.
Last week, Ontario's health minister challenged the federal government to do more to help refugees, and announced funding to help Lifeline Syria, an NGO that helps Syrian refugees settling in Canada.
Vancouver to hold refugee public forum
Meanwhile, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has announced he will be holding a public forum to discuss how best the city can help alleviate the refugee crisis.
"Vancouver has a long and proud history of welcoming refugees and their families in times of desperate need, helping them start new lives with hope, security, and freedom here in Canada," said Robertson in a news release.
"The continuing refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East has displaced millions of new refugees, leaving millions more stranded and at risk from armed conflict, extreme poverty, hunger, and/or unacceptably poor living conditions — and Canada needs to take a leadership role."
The forum, to be held on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. PT at Vancouver City Hall, will be open to anyone who wants to attend. Speakers will include senior officials from Immigrant Settlement Services and MOSAIC, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing issues that affect refugees.