Syrian refugee crisis: Quebec triples number of refugee sponsorships

Quebec's immigration minister on Monday outlined extraordinary new measures being taken by the province to accept more Syrian refugees.
A volunteer helps a Syrian woman that collapsed while her husband cries as they arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Quebec's immigration minister on Monday outlined extraordinary new measures being taken by the province to accept more Syrian refugees.

Minister Kathleen Weil said the province would accept 3,650 Syrian refugees — triple the number of the initial objective for 2015.

"In the face of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, we can do better," Weil said of existing efforts in Canada to help Syrian refugees.

Weil said 1,800 Syrians would be welcomed through collective sponsorship, while 650 will be government-sponsored. She said she wants to fast-track sponsorships to get refugees to safety as quickly as possible.

Types of refugee sponsorship in Quebec:

  • Government-sponsored refugees have many of their resettlement expenses paid for by the state and receive government help to integrate. Ottawa sets the target for the number that can be accepted this way.   
  • Collectively sponsored refugees in Quebec receive the financial support of a group or organization that agrees to take charge of them, signing an undertaking to help them financially, finding them work and taking other steps to help them integrate into Quebec.

Syrian refugees arrive in Greece aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey on Sept. 7, 2015. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

The province expects to spend $29 million in services for new refugees, and is asking the federal government to facilitate the 650 state sponsorships.

"These exceptional measures that we're proposing today respond to the requests of Quebecers who want to do more to help Syrian refugees," Weil said in Montreal.

Since the beginning of 2015, 651 refugees have arrived in Quebec from Syria. In 2014, the province took in 60 per cent of Canada's total.

The announcement came days after the shocking photo of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy with family connections to Canada caused a global outcry and thrust the refugee crisis to the top of international headlines.

More than four million Syrians have fled the country since a civil war erupted there in 2011. At least several hundred thousand Syrians have died in the conflict.

Last week, both Quebec City and Montreal indicated their willingness to take in more refugees.

Quebec hopes to collaborate with feds

Weil told reporters the federal government had been informed of Quebec's intentions and said she was hoping to hear back quickly.

"We're going forward to the federal government with our hand out saying 'we can help, we want to help, this is our objective and we need you to collaborate with us," she said.

The federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration was not immediately available for comment.

Weil said she would like to see Ottawa allow Quebec's Immigration Department to send personnel to Beirut, Lebanon, in order to accelerate the refugee selection process.

St-Pierre also announced an additional $100,000 in funding for Quebec international aid organizations helping overseas, as well as a plan to create a crisis unit to liaise between government ministers and aid organizations.

with files from Canadian Press