Wesley Urban Ministries says it didn't know ahead of time that 150 Syrian refugees were moving to the city from Toronto.

But with the new families already settled here, the agency which handles Hamilton's government-assisted refugee cases, says it is doing what it can to track down the Toronto arrivals to see how it can help.

Wesley is already scrambling to cope with 988 official arrivals to the city, which is more than double the number it had been led to believe the government sponsored program would be sending here.

This new migration represents a sizeable extra caseload arriving outside of any official coordination, and Wesley executive director Daljit Garry says they are not factored into its current staffing or efforts.

In Toronto, the families were included in the caseload for COSTI Immigrant Services.

But whose clients they are once they get to Hamilton is "a bit of a grey area," Garry said. "The supports COSTI provided are temporary in nature, so it's not a black and white situation."

'We need to determine what the need is, so it's early days.' - Daljit Garry, Wesley Urban Ministries

But Garry said Wesley is working with COSTI to locate and contact the families. Then it will meet with them to see what they need.

That might include helping them enroll in schools, or find language classes or health care providers.

"We're working with COSTI to say 'OK, we'll make that connection.'"

The Syrian refugees moving from Toronto to Hamilton are drawn in part by the more affordable rental rates in Hamilton compared to the pricier GTA.

Not included in current refugee numbers

Their arrival has taken those involved in the refugee effort by surprise. Public health officials say they've heard of the arrivals, referred to as secondary migrants. But they don't know if they're reaching them in outreach that ranges from dental care to immunizing families for communicable diseases. 

Their number is also not included in the nearly 400 refugees staying in hotels as they look for affordable housing. Most of the Toronto arrivals, Garry said, seem to have secured housing before they arrived.

'We strongly encourage resettled refugees to remain in their new community for their first year in Canada.' - Remi Lariviere, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

The Immigrants Working Centre has seen 150 refugees so far who have moved from Toronto to Hamilton, says executive director Ines Rios. It is not known how many more, if any,  above that 150 number might have moved here.

But the arrivals haven't been captured in any formal way in Hamilton's official tally of about 988 government-assisted refugees. 

As for exactly what their arrival will mean for the agency, Garry isn't sure yet. She won't know until it's taken stock.

'It's early days'

"We need to determine what the need is, so it's early days," she said. "We have to determine what supports people need and what we're able to accommodate."

Garry says she isn't clear if the families are arriving on their own accord, or if COSTI is recommending they come to Hamilton.

COSTI has not responded to numerous attempts by CBC get comment on the issue.

The federal government says it discourages Syrian refugees from moving to new communities shortly after they arrive.

"We strongly encourage resettled refugees to remain in their new community for their first year in Canada in order to benefit from services and settlement supports that can help them adjust to life in Canada," said Remi Lariviere, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Canadians with the freedom to move

But once the refugees arrive in Canada, they are permanent residents and can live where they want, Lariviere said.

If they do move, their file is transferred from one resettlement program to another, Lariviere said. In this case, that would be from COSTI to Wesley. It funds agencies on overall operating costs and not on a per-refugee basis, so it shouldn't cause a budget crunch for Wesley.

Secondary migration isn't unusual, Garry said. Some Hamilton refugees have moved to other places too. 

But "it's more noticeable now because everybody is aware of the influx of refugees that are coming."

Garry said the bulk of Wesley's government-assisted refugees have arrived. The next two months will focus on finding them housing.