Refugee settlement and community health groups in Ottawa are trying to figure out how to best help the thousands of new refugees expected to arrive in the region in the coming weeks.
John McCallum, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, confirmed Monday the federal government plans to bring in 25,000 government-sponsored refugees in the next eight weeks.
Assmaa Bailouni spends her days helping refugees navigate Canada's health care system. She's been watching from afar as her home country, Syria, has been torn apart by war, forcing millions of people to flee to neighbouring countries for safety.
"Seeing my people being refugees everywhere, and dying on their way, it's sad to see," said Bailouni, a multicultural health navigator at the Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre, which is run out of the Somerset West Community Health Centre.
"In the last couple of years I was working with the Iraqi people in Syria. I'll be happy to help my own people."
Bailouni, who is now a Canadian Citizen, recently met with a group of other refugee advocates to talk about how to help the displaced Syrians when they arrive. That group, called Refugee 613, is helping co-ordinate local efforts.
'I'm very confident we can roll up our sleeves'
Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, said that given the plight of the refugees — fleeing war and living in camps — many may need physical and mental health services.
"With all the leadership that was in the room, all the right people are at the table and we're talking it through. I'm very confident we can roll up our sleeves and do the most efficient, effective approach to bringing Syrian refugees in," said McCarthy.
But he said many questions remain, including when the refugees will arrive and how many are coming.
For the past few years, Dr. Doug Gruner, a refugee doctor in Ottawa, fought the former federal government's decision to cut interim health care for some refugees and claimants.
Now that the Liberals are reversing those cuts and reinstating health care for all refugees, Gruner said he's redirecting his energy into helping the new arrivals.
"Now, no longer will the costs of medications and other issues like prosthetics be on the shoulders of our private sponsors, church groups," said Gruner.
"Now the federal government is doing the right thing and picking up that cost."
Community health groups aren't the only ones in the city focusing on the influx of refugees over the next eight weeks.
Minister John McCallum said public servants are running flat out and that the newly formed cabinet sub-committee will release a detailed plan in a week or so.