Manitoba social agencies gear up for Syrian refugee arrival

Social services providers who help refugees in Manitoba are bracing for a surge of newcomers, with at least two organizations not allowing vacation time for their staff until Canada's response to the Syrian crisis is complete.

Those who help refugees adjust to life in Canada prepare for surge of newcomers

RAW: CBC's Chris Glover talks with Syrian kids at the Winnipeg NEEDS Centre

8 years ago
Duration 2:57
See why Syrian refugee children miss home, but are loving Canada

Social services providers who help refugees in Manitoba are bracing for a surge of newcomers, with at least two organizations not allowing vacation time for their staff until Canada's response to the Syrian crisis is complete.

Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services (NEEDS Inc.) and Welcome Place have made the move in response to an anticipated influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

The new Liberal government says it plans to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of this year, honouring a promise it made during this fall's election campaign.

"People who work in this sector are always always committed to clients, and so we have taken the necessary steps and told staff we all need to be on standby, including myself," said Rita Chahal, Welcome Place's executive director.

Chahal said she learned on Thursday from the federal Immigration Department that Welcome Place, a refugee resettlement centre based in Winnipeg, is being asked to receive three refugee families on Nov. 18.

"That'll be a total of about 18 more that we had not expected," she said.

"We don't know whether these were people who had been pre-approved or was this as a result of this new announcement, or were they already in the pipeline before."

In the past year, Welcome Place received four government-sponsored refugees.

Chahal said the centre currently has 60 refugees living there, but it can accommodate up to about 120.

Welcome Place expects to be ready to receive refugees on weekends and well into the Christmas holidays. It generally doesn't receive clients after Dec. 15, but Chahal said she expects that to change this year.

NEEDS program running at capacity

NEEDS Inc. works with young newcomers age six to 18 to get them ready for the Canadian education system.

Refugee children and youth at NEEDS Inc., a Winnipeg-based organization that works with young newcomers to get them ready for the Canadian education system. (Chris Glover/CBC)
"This is a great opportunity for them to come to Canada," Margaret Von Lau, executive director of NEEDS, said of the expected influx of refugees.

"We teach them about multiculturalism. We also have a component of integration into Canadian society, as well as crime prevention, which is extremely crucial for kids who are coming from war-affected countries," she added.

The program is running at capacity right now with 48 kids, Von Lau said. They have room for one more classroom, but that requires more funding, she said.

"To accommodate more children, we would definitely need to have more staff," she said. "If you want to have the quality services, you have to hire quality professionals. At the same time, you cannot only run programs on volunteers."

NEEDS operates with federal funding.

Manitoba offering $1.2M to resettlement services

In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the Manitoba government committed $1.2 million to resettlement services and another $200,000 to immediate on-the-ground aid in Syria.

Some local agencies are scrambling to secure a share of the provincial funding, none of which has gone out yet.

"I think it's going to flow very quickly, no question about it," Selinger said Thursday.

Selinger said usually, the province takes in about 1,500 refugees a year, "which is the highest per capita amount for any province."

He added, "We certainly do our share and we're prepared to do more. We've said we're prepared to double that up to 3,000, so we're working with the local organizations at how to gear up to that." 

Selinger said that 3,000 may or may not come to Manitoba by the end of this year.

With files from the CBC's Jillian Taylor and Chris Glover