Calgary is ready to welcome Syrian refugees, says Naheed Nenshi

A city that welcomed 38,000 new residents last year shouldn't have trouble accommodating an estimated 1,300 refugees, especially during a downturn, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said on Tuesday.

An estimated 1,300 will arrive in Calgary by early 2016, with plans well in place

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, with Katie Black and Fariborz Birjandian looking on, says Calgary is ready to accept an estimated 1,300 refugees. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

A city that welcomed 38,000 new residents last year shouldn't have trouble accommodating an estimated 1,300 refugees, especially during a downturn, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said on Tuesday.

He was speaking to Calgary's plans to welcome Syrian refugees on a day the federal government unveiled its plan to resettle 25,000 asylum seekers by early 2016

Nenshi said they are not expecting any impacts on social housing or programs for Calgarians.

"We're not intending on putting any of these folks in social housing," he said.

"I don't think it will have any impact whatsoever other than it might inspire us with some new solutions on homelessness in our community."

He's optimistic the federal government will respond positively to the city's request for funds to help subsidize housing for the refugees in available rental units. 

Fateh Zaamout, who wants to bring some of his family to Calgary from a refugee camp in Turkey, said the easiest way to house and integrate Syrians into the city is to focus on those with families already here. 

"If you're going to bring a family here, what kind of social support are you going to give them? They don't even speak one word of English. Those people were not prepared to be refugees," he said. 

Plans in place

Katie Black, the director of community and neighbourhood services for the city, said they are well into the planning process. 

"We are getting ready, planning for everything from housing to health to education, making sure that we are prepared for whatever comes along with these fine new Calgarians that will be joining us as our neighbours," she said. 

Nenshi said the scene that played out at the airport yesterday, as 16 refugees arrived to a warm welcome, illustrated Calgary's fundamental nature. 

"Accepting, welcoming and including refugees and newcomers into our great city is part of our DNA, it's in our bloodstream," he said.

"We have such a rich history of welcoming people."

First impressions

It's a critical thing, those first impressions, according to the mayor

"The most important mental health intervention we can do for these folks is to be welcoming," he said. 

Fariborz Birjandian, the CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which is helping to coordinate the arrival of refugees from Syria, said the city is well prepared. 

"Every year we settle 1,000 refugees in Calgary. So it's something we have well established partnerships between health, education, employment, justice, the city services and other services," he said.

"So we are really one of the cities that have a reputation as a good place to go for refugees."

He says his organization started planning and coordinating for refugees from the war zone in 2013.


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