Government-assisted refugee arrivals paused in more Canadian cities

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the federal government will temporarily delay the arrival of government-assisted refugees in some cities across the country at the request of resettlement agencies.

Temporary measure is 'short-term diversion,' Immigration Minister John McCallum says

Immigration Minister John McCallum acknowledges that some municipalities have asked for a pause in sending them refugees due to a shortage of affordable housing. 1:52

Resettlement agencies in two more Canadian cities have asked the federal government to slow down the arrival of government-assisted refugees as the groups struggle to find permanent housing to lodge Syrian families, says the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

The latest hiccup in the government's plan to resettle 25,000 refugees — a mix of privately sponsored and government-assisted refugees — by March 1 comes as 11,613 Syrian refugees have already arrived in Canada since Nov. 4 when the Liberals were sworn into power.

Federal officials say groups in Toronto and Halifax have joined agencies in Ottawa and Vancouver in their request to decelerate the pace at which government-assisted refugees are arriving in their communities.

Immigration Minister John McCallum, who took part in a question-and-answer session with the Canadian Club of Toronto on Wednesday, said afterward the requests are coming directly from resettlement agencies, not city officials. 

"They are finding that they need a little [more] time to hire more people," McCallum said in Toronto Wednesday morning. "My officials are helping them with that process, and they also need a little more time to find medium-term housing."

McCallum called the temporary measure a "short-term diversion" while the government helps ease the strain felt by some of the resettlement groups.

The temporary accommodation does not apply to Syrian refugees who are privately sponsored by Canadians.

Extended hotel stays

That means that some government-assisted refugees will have to stay in temporary accommodations near the Toronto and Montreal airports for a few extra days before travelling to their host cities, said the minister on Wednesday.

"I am told that this will be resolved in a matter of a few days, not longer than that," McCallum said.

"At the present time, four communities, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax, have asked us to delay new arrivals for a few days," said Theodora Jean, a spokeswoman with the Immigration Department in an email to CBC News.

"At most, new arrivals in these situations are being delayed up to five days," Jean said.

However, the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia told CBC News in Halifax that it did not ask the government to slow down the arrival of refugees.

Despite the temporary measures, Syrian refugees continue to arrive daily across the country, including in cities like Halifax. 

A Syrian refugee holds his daughter as they arrive at the Pearson Toronto International Airport in Mississauga, Ont. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Daily flights

In fact, McCallum said the Liberals aren't talking of cancelling government-organized flights carrying Syrian refugees just yet, but rather delaying transport to the cities that will welcome them.

"The flow from the airplanes is not slowing down at all. It's just that if certain towns or cities need a pause, there will be other places in Canada who will receive the refugees," he said.

According to information posted on the government's website, nearly 600 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive at the Toronto and Montreal airports by the end of today.

But details for flights planned for Jan. 21-27 are currently unavailable. 

"This is a tentative flight and has not been confirmed. The list of destination cities for the refugees is not yet available," the website says.

Of the near 600 refugees who are expected to arrive in Canada today, the government website shows that 253 are destined for resettlement in the four cities where agencies are said to be experiencing some strain.

  • 49 are destined for Vancouver.
  • 47 for Toronto.
  • 118 for Ottawa.
  • 39 for Halifax.

1st flight out of Turkey

To date, the Syrians who have arrived in Canada during the past two months have come from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

Today's arrivals will include for the first time refugees flying out of Turkey.

"Our first government organized flight out of Turkey is expected to depart on Jan. 20, on a chartered–commercial flight departing from Ankara," said Faith St-John, a department spokesperson in an email to CBC News.

"Those arriving from Turkey will be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees."

The UN refugee agency is responsible for identifying refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, but in Turkey the registration of Syrian refugees falls to the government.

Canadian officials have been working with the government of Turkey to secure exit permits for the refugees.

"Approximately 600 interviews have been completed with Syrian refugees in Turkey and additional interviews are ongoing. However, the total number of refugees who will arrive from Turkey is not yet confirmed,"  St-John said.

McCallum said on Wednesday though it's been a "challenge" to resettle a large number of government-assisted refugees, the "bigger challenge" is to ensure their successful settlement and integration into Canadian society.

During the election campaign, the Liberals promised to resettle 25,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of 2015. But shortly after taking office, lowered the target to 10,000 saying most of those would be privately sponsored.


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