Housing a big influx of Syrian families in a short amount of time could result in "chaos," the head of an immigrant services society says.
The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) is preparing for the arrival up to 2,300 Syrian refugees in Calgary — possibly over the next six to eight weeks.
'We've done it on a smaller scale and it had worked. But there are major challenges.' - Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of CCIS
The typical number of refugees who arrive in Calgary is 900 to 1,100 people over the course of a year.
"It will be chaos," said Fariborz Birjandian, who heads CCIS — the largest immigration organization in southern Alberta.
The Liberal government has committed to taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees — the largest influx of migrants in Canadian history — by the end of the year.
At least 3,000 are expected to arrive in communities across Alberta.
Birjandian says Calgary has a great record of helping refugees, citing the 5,000 Kosovar refugees who fled their war-torn country and came to Canada in 1999.
"Calgary did quite well, amazingly well," he said.
Birjandian, who also chairs the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA), says the agency is ready to help, but he's particularly concerned about where the migrants will live.
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If the refugees arrive in the next six weeks, the plan is to use the CCIS reception house, but that can only accommodate 60 people.
The next best option, Birjandian says, is to use commercial accommodation, which the agency is discussing with city officials and major landlords.
The third and most difficult option would be private homes.
"We haven't done that in the past, so that will be a huge challenge for us."
Despite the logistics, Birjandian is hopeful the plan will work.
"We've done it on a smaller scale and it had worked. But there are major challenges, such as housing allowance."
Currently, government housing subsidies are quite low. Refugees receive up to one year of government-subsidized living allowance.
A family of four, for example, gets $1,542 a month and a rent allowance of $695.
"If they provide enough market rate rent, I think we can do it."
So far, Birjandian says the provincial government has helped set up a task force to address the issues, involving five communities around the province — Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Edmonton.
A meeting has already been held and 73 organizations attended, says Birjandian.
There will also be a meeting on Nov. 19 at the Calgary library to outline the plan to various community organizations.
Meanwhile, CCIS is also conducting orientation and workshops for private groups interested in helping to sponsor Syrian individuals or families.