With 115 Syrian refugees already in Moncton and another 35 arriving today and tonight, Charles Léger, a Moncton city councilor and board member of the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA), says keeping up with the pace has been a struggle.
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As the arrival of families has gone from a trickle in December to a flood, Léger says MAGMA is now reaching out for help from the City of Moncton and the Canadian Red Cross because the settlement organization is having difficulty providing the basics to the newcomers.
"The challenges are the sheer numbers of refugees and the way in which the government is sending them our way... it is something that MAGMA has never seen in terms of the numbers," Léger said Thursday on Information Morning Moncton.
Léger acknowledges that there have been concerns expressed about Syrian families not getting what they need.
"Things are coming much, much faster than perhaps even was anticipated during the initial planning stages. Twenty-four to 48 hours to let you know that 37 people are coming for example — it's difficult."
Marc Belliveau, provincial manager for the Canadian Red Cross disaster management, says his organization has always been available, but is now being called on for additional support.
With experience in logistics and volunteer resources, Belliveau believes the Red Cross can take some of the pressure off MAGMA so staff can focus on the settlement of the refugees.
"Our volunteers can go out, with a MAGMA volunteer and interpreter, do assessments. We can help behind the scenes... we're just here to plan, to assist and provide any support we can."
Language still big hurdle
Léger says one of the biggest surprises for MAGMA has been that the Syrian families don't understand or speak French or English.
There have been some hiccups along the way I admit that. - Coun. Charles Léger
"Which is extremely challenging and it was not necessarily identified nationally that this was going to be the case. That adds another layer."
Early in December, Université de Moncton announced it had compiled a list of 80 Arabic-speaking students and staff who would be willing to help refugee families, but according to Léger, MAGMA only reached out yesterday to get that list from the university.
"There have been some hiccups along the way I admit that," Léger said.
Belliveau met with a Syrian family Wednesday night to do an assessment of their needs, and says the focus has to be on helping them to become part of the community.
"Immediately we want them to learn how to ride the bus, you want to teach them how to do their groceries, where the grocery store is, where they're oriented within the city. The faster we can do that the less pressure we have on the system and we can focus on the ones who are coming," Belliveau said.
'We need to make sure we get this right'
Léger says he is excited that the large families arriving have so many young children. Of the 152 refugees who will be in the city by the end of Friday, 90 will be children.
"You know we've always talked about population growth in the province of New Brunswick and the things that we can do and the things that we have to do to try to grow our population — this is a great opportunity... the challenge is we need to make sure we get this right."
The City of Moncton announced it is organizing a supplies drive Saturday and Sunday as it takes over the collection and distribution of donated goods.
People are asked to bring personal hygiene items, baby items, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, kitchen supplies, new linens and furniture to 50 MacNaughton Avenue in the Caledonia Industrial Park between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
"It's about our community and it's about making sure that when we finally have the 500 people in our community, that most of them stay here," Léger said.
Cities across the country have asked the federal government to slow down the arrival of refugees because of difficulties finding permanent homes. Meanwhile Immigration Minister John McCallum says New Brunswick cabinet minister Francine Landry, who is responsible for the Syrian refugee file, is "crying out for refugees."