Calgary can take more refugees in 2017, Nenshi says

With some already settled in our city, and many more who are desperate to get away from violence in Syria, Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Canada, and Calgary, can help — as long as the funding is in place.

Alberta welcomed more than 7,000 refugees last year

Many who provide social services to newcomers in Calgary say the city is ready to take on more refugees. (CBC)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city could take in more refugees if the federal government paves the way.

"As we've brought in the Syrian families over the last year, we actually created capacity by linking agencies and figuring out the system, so it's relatively easy for us to gear up the system again — as long as the funding is in place," said Nenshi.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he supports having more refugees come to Calgary. (CBC)

It follows Premier Rachel Notley's statement this week that Alberta is willing to accept more refugees if the federal government decides to lift a cap on how many can come to Canada.

Notley said she believes Ottawa is considering such a move.

About 3,400 Syrian refugees moved into Calgary last year, with just over 7,000 arriving in the province from November 2015 to December 2016.

With many more who are desperate to get away from terrorism and violence in Syria, Nenshi says Canada — and Calgary — can help them.

"We know the private system is the envy of the world, where groups of five come together and sponsor a refugee family, and it works really well," said Nenshi on Thursday.

"The people integrate quickly, so I think that's an easy way to move forward," Nenshi said.

Nenshi says the numbers need to be looked at across Canada to see if there's capacity and to make sure the supports for language training are in place.

"I really believe language training is the single biggest contributor to their long-term success," he said.

A welcoming committee greets a refugee family at the Calgary Airport last year. (CBC)

Nenshi says before the downturn, Calgary was taking around 40,000 people per year into the city. So 1,000 refugees — with migration down and a higher vacancy rate — shouldn't be a big deal for the city, he added.

Agencies and front-line workers agree that Calgary can accommodate more newcomers if the resources and funding are in place.

"Even when we were receiving large numbers, we were able to manage," said Anoush Newman, a refugee resettlement co-ordinator at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

"But it's not a matter of just taking refugees. It's about what services we have in place, because if we don't have the resources, it's going to be difficult for both the front-line workers and the new Canadians."