The anticipated influx to Canada of 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year has grassroots settlement agencies in Ottawa calling on the government to restore funding cut in recent years.
- Syrian refugee plan goes to Liberal cabinet Thursday
- Canada strikes committee to fast track resettlement
Details about the Liberals' Syrian resettlement plan — as well as the money to go with it — could come as early as Thursday afternoon when the government is expected to make another announcement.
Meanwhile, the umbrella group Refugee 613 has emerged to co-ordinate settlement agencies and community services.
Louisa Taylor, who has been volunteering to help co-ordinate the group, said it has been an eye-opening experience.
"Every single aspect for refugee response is underfunded at the moment," said Taylor. "Settlement agencies have been cut to the bone in recent years. They need more funds to do their jobs."
Cuts have had an impact on services at agencies such as the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.
Executive director Carl Nicholson said the organization receives about two-thirds of its funding from the federal government.
"At one point, our budget was about $8 million; it's now about $5.5 million," Nicholson said. "It's not because we're seeing less people — it's because the federal government decided to invest less."
No one from the federal Immigration Department was available for a comment.
Chris Friesen, head of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, said the government redistributed immigrant funding to the Prairie provinces over the last several years to accommodate a shift in where immigrants were landing.
He said federal statistics showed that slightly fewer refugees were landing in Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, while the numbers were increasing in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Now, settlement agencies are anxiously waiting to hear what kind of new money will flow from the various levels of government to help with the new Syrians refugees.
'We're all kind of scrambling'
At the YMCA in Ottawa, senior director Tanya Mendes-Gagnon runs a newcomer program that helps more than 2,000 refugees a year with housing, language and employment services.
She said her team is eager to help Syrian refugees, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.
"We're all kind of scrambling," Mendes-Gagnon said. "We're a little excited. We need the money for infrastructure, then how quickly can we turn around and deliver the service?"
Mendes-Gagnon said when it comes to language training, current programs in the city are already beyond capacity.
Refugee advocates, many who are immigrants themselves, may be working all hours on shoe-string budgets, but they also say they're energized by the plan.
"The people who work here, work here not because they're going to make money. They chose this country — they love this country," Nicholson said.
"We're pretty happy we're finally going to do something to help people who are suffering from the broad Syrian crisis."