Manitoba using emergency resources to bring in up to 2,000 Syrian refugees
Combination of government and privately sponsored newcomers headed to province
The Manitoba government is using its emergency response resources and working with local agencies to welcome 1,500 to 2,000 government and privately sponsored Syrian refugees over the next few months, Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday.
The refugees will initially stay in Winnipeg, where housing and services are immediately available, said Selinger, who added that an emergency co-ordination centre — similar to what is used in floods — will be set up at the Woodsworth Building in downtown Winnipeg to help the new arrivals access those services quickly.
"We're going to make sure that all the resources that people are offering are co-ordinated in such a way that we can have the best chance of bringing people to Manitoba and help them immediately get settled, and then help them get out into communities as rapidly as possible, to put down roots, to stay in this province," the premier told reporters.
A Manitoba housing task force will explore the availability of housing and support in other regions, the province said.
No refugees will be housed in military barracks or public housing, officials added.
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Ben Rempel, the province's assistant deputy minister of immigration, said the co-ordination centre will be key in a successful settlement effort.
"But we'll continue to need the support of all Manitobans to ensure that we continue to support the full inclusion of these new Manitobans in our communities, schools and workplaces long after their first few days in Manitoba," Rempel said.
Selinger said his government has developed a comprehensive, multi-pronged strategy to accommodate those displaced by the crisis in Syria and that Manitobans' values — including diversity and inclusiveness — are motivating factors in the government's decision to "help these innocent victims of war find a better life."
Selinger said everyone he has spoken to is eager to help those displaced by the ongoing crisis in Syria.
"We are today truly global citizens when we enter into this process. We see these people as being our neighbours, our relatives, our friends. And when we bring them here, we will help them be successful in our communities," he said.
Among those who are trying to bring loved ones to Manitoba is Joseph Chaebean, whose brother-in-law fled Syria with his wife and three children in 2012 and are stuck in Lebanon.
"They have no future. They cannot work in Lebanon because they're refugees. And if it wasn't for my father's family, they cannot survive," Chaebean said Thursday.
He said he hopes to have the family put on the list of Syrian refugees who will be brought to Manitoba.
Assistance line launches Monday
The province and the Canadian Red Cross will launch a toll-free help line next Monday that will connect Manitobans with information on how they can help.
Shawn Feely, The Canadian Red Cross's provincial director for Manitoba, says it's the first time the organization has been involved in resettling refugees in Manitoba.
"We use a call centre in times of natural disaster to help provide information for callers or receive information, so that's not new to us," he said.
"We will be working with the settlement agencies to identify needs and match those needs with the callers' offers of assistance."
The call centre will be staffed five days a week, eight hours a day, but Feely said the hours will be extended if necessary.
Manitoba support system
The province's initiative will require collaboration from all levels of government, settlement agencies and community organizations to find suitable housing, Selinger said.
Manitoba Labour and Immigration will lead the province's response, with support from the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, and the effort will be co-ordinated through the Manitoba Emergency Co-ordination Centre.
The province said they have put together a team of experts from several departments, including housing and community development, education, multiculturalism, literacy, jobs and the economy, health, family services and children and youth opportunities to provide support for the refugees.
Community experts are involved in the process, too, making sure programs are lined up to meet the newcomers' needs.
A number of Winnipeg organizations, including Mount Carmel Clinic and Welcome Place, also will be available for support.
Feely said all the resources going into helping Syrian refugees settle in Manitoba shows how well the provincial government is treating the situation.
"It's a very co-operative approach to it, which is wonderful to see," he said.
"You can see by all the people here today, all the people who were involved in the planning and the execution and the implementation of that plan. It's going very well."
The federal government announced Monday that Syrian refugees coming to Canada will be limited to women, children and families, gays and lesbians, and single men accompanying parents as part of a family.
The federal deadline to settle 25,000 refugees in Canada is the end of February 2016.