Hamilton prepares for influx of Syrian refugees

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger: "It's an important part of who we are as Hamiltonians, who we are as Canadians. We'll do our bit to accommodate them."

Mayor is calling together housing, healthcare and other groups to find out if Hamilton is ready

Refugees and migrants struggle to get off an overcrowded dinghy as they arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast on Sept. 30. Hamilton is getting ready to receive some of the 25,000 Syrian refugees the federal government has pledged to accept by the end of this year. (Dimitris Michalaki/Reuters)

There's no question that Hamilton will get some of the new influx of Syrian refugees. The only question is how many.

Now Hamilton's mayor is calling various people together to figure out how the city should prepare.

Fred Eisenberger said he expects at least a small portion of the 25,000 Syrian refugees the new Liberal government has pledged to accept will come to Hamilton.

They'll need housing, and health care, and a place to live. They'll need clothes and food and warm beds.

"It's going to be an imminent issue no matter how you cut it," he said.

Eisenberger's comments came before Friday's co-ordinated strikes in Paris, which left at least 129 dead and many more wounded. The attacks appear not to sway the Liberal government from its promise to accept 25,000 refugees, though a senior official assured reporters Saturday night that the refugees that are brought to Canada will be chosen in a "safe and responsible" manner to deal with possible security threats.

Eisenberger has invited several agencies and city departments to a meeting next week to talk about where Hamilton should focus its resources.

For example, Hamilton has a well-documented shortage of affordable housing. Often, refugees stay in local hotels before setting out to find housing.

As for what else they'll need, "that's what we're here to find out," Eisenberger said. "That's why we're going to meet and we're going to organize."

The refugees will arrive in Hamilton through Wesley Urban Ministries, then look to local agencies as they get established, Eisenberger said. The city already takes about 300 refugees per year.

Eisenberger held an information session this fall for Hamiltonians interested in privately sponsoring Syrian refugees. There's no question Hamilton will do its part, he said.

"It's an important part of who we are as Hamiltonians, who we are as Canadians," he said. "We'll do our bit to accommodate them."

Syrian refugees became a heated issue this year, as an increasing number of Syrians fled their homeland to escape a violent civil war. It drew more attention in September when an image was broadcast around the world of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was among at least a dozen people who drowned trying to travel from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos.

The Liberals have pledged to accept 25,000 by the end of this year, many from Jordan, Lenanon and Turkey, although critics have said the plan will be hard to achieve.

Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health is among the agencies invited to meet with Eisenberger next week.

The clinic is funded primarily through local doctors and nurse practitioners, many who donate their billing fees. It treats ailments from common influenza to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The clinic could use volunteer Arabic interpreters, said Terri Bedminster, director of operations. It also needs mental health councillors and physicians willing to take on refugee families as new patients. 


Correction:

A previous version of this story says refugees arrive through Good Shepherd. It should have read Wesley Urban Ministries.

With files from Daniel Schwartz and the Canadian Press

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