Syrian refugee plan goes to Liberal cabinet Thursday
No price tag attached to 'ambitious' goal of bringing in 25,000 people by year's end
An expedited roadmap to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada will be presented to the Liberal cabinet Thursday, but the detailed plan will not include cost estimates.
Senior cabinet ministers and top officials from defence, security and intelligence agencies met on Parliament Hill Tuesday to work out an "ambitious" plan for final approval by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his full cabinet,
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"We're committed to do this fast, but we're also committed to do it right, to do it well," said Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum. "And those involve particularly concerns around security and concerns about health."
McCallum said overall costs will depend on how the plan is ultimately implemented, given the "huge number" of parameters, variables and considerations.
"What I can guarantee to you absolutely is that we will not keep Canadians in the dark on what the costs are," he said. "And that I can say with 100 per cent certainty."
In addition to stringent security screening, the refugee intake plan also considers dealing with potential health concerns such as tuberculosis, according to Health Minister Jane Philpott.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres issued a statement welcoming Canada's commitment to resetting 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, calling it a "huge gesture of solidarity" that other countries should follow.
He said his agency will be helping the Liberal government identify refugees for resettlement — particularly from Lebanon and Jordan — and facilitating their move to Canada.
But the burden of welcoming Syrian refugees falls to agencies at an already busy time of year.
"We had hoped we would have more details," Claudette Legault, the director of programs and services for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, told CBC News.
Groups involved in housing and health are meeting to anticipate accommodation demands and medical needs. Some refugees of the war may suffer post traumatic stress, while others have not had access to primary health care in five years.
A group of family doctors in Toronto is expanding their clinics, expecting Syrians, both those sponsored by government and the increased numbers from private sponsors.
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Initially, the refugees may be housed temporarily on military bases in Canada, but within weeks they'll need more permanent housing.
And there is a scarcity of affordable housing in many cities such as Vancouver, and Toronto, which are looking at accepting three times as many government sponsored refugees than planned for this year.
We're not picky. We'll take anything and everything at this point — rooms in people's homes, basement suites, apartment suites.- Chris Friesen , Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
Refugees receive the equivalent of social assistance for the first year from the government. In Vancouver, for example, for a family of four, that works out to about $1,350 a month for food, shelter and transport, making finding an apartment a daunting prospect.
"Housing is the No. 1 priority," says Friesen, calling on Canadians to think about what they might contribute.
"We're not picky. We'll take anything and everything at this point — rooms in people's homes, basement suites, apartment suites," he added.
At this point it's unclear where the refugees may end up, but if they are distributed across the country, as current refugees are, even smaller cities like Prince Albert, Sask., Medicine Hat, Alta., or Victoriaville, Que., may be each asked to take more than 200 new refugees — four times the number of initial targets for 2015.
Municipalities and provincial departments will need to co-ordinate things like education. Up to 35 per cent of the Syrian refugees will be children and young people under 18. They'll need to join schools in mid-year, often without English skills.
With files from Susan Ormiston