Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins wants to see 5,000 Syrian refugees resettled in Canada by the end of the year, he said today at a funding announcement in Toronto.
Hoskins made the challenge Friday to the federal government as his Liberal government pledged to commit $300,000 to Lifeline Syria, a locally led effort to sponsor Syrian refugees to resettle in Canada.
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The refugee crisis has been front and centre this week with the story of a Syrian mother and her two children dying while in a rowboat with others aiming to get them and others to Greece.
The body of the three-year-old son of the woman and her husband, who survived, was found washed up on a beach in Turkey. A photo of of the boy lying face down in the muck has been circulated around the world.
'Running out of time'
In April, the Ontario government provided $30,000 in what it called seed funding to Lifeline Syria to help kickstart its operation. This new round of funding is to hire staff and sponsor refugees, which Hoskins said was "vital humanitarian work."
"We have an obligation to respond," said Hoskins.
He said the public will help to resettle the refugees once they are here.
"The public, in this case, is far ahead of the government," he said. "It is time for governments to heed that public call."
Both Hoskins and Lifeline Syria chair Ratna Omidvar said Canada is far from meeting its target of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees.
"We are running out of time," he said.
Lifeline Syria aims to resettle and integrate 1,000 Syrian refugees in Toronto-area over the next two years.
In 2014, 11,400 refugees settled in Ontario.
Resettling refugees 'right thing to do'
Hoskins said that when the Kosovo War was raging in 1998 and 1999, he was part of a team that resettled refugees to Canada in a short amount of time.
"We made the decision, because it was the right thing to do, to resettle 5,000 Kosovar refugees in one month," he said, adding that resettling that number of displaced persons was possible.
Omidvar said Lifeline Syria has been overwhelmed by response from the public. She said almost 600 emails have gone unanswered due to the demand to sponsor Syrian refugees.
"We know the will of the people is there," she said.
Hoskins said the image of the Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, helped Canadians understand both the crisis and the urgency.
The boy's aunt, who lives in B.C., said she had hoped to get the family to Canada, but no formal application was made.
"It's [the case] given us an opportunity like never before," he said. "It's generated a resolve among the public."