Syrian refugee crisis: Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil pledges to do more

Only eight of 200 state-sponsored Syrian refugees have arrived in Quebec so far in 2015, Quebec's immigration minister acknowledged - pledging to do more.

Premier Philippe Couillard says Quebec ready to accept 'hundreds, if not thousands' more

Despite Quebec's pledge to do all it can to stem the humanitarian crisis in Syria and accept more refugees, only eight of 200 state-sponsored refugees have arrived in the province so far in 2015, Quebec's immigration minister acknowledged Friday.

Another 643 Syrian refugees have come since the start of 2015 through private sponsorships, and 1,900 more are expected by the end of the year.

Kathleen Weil, Quebec's immigration minister, wants the public's feedback as the government overhauls its immigration policy. (CBC)

"We want to do more," Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil told CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty. "It's a collective call to action, and the premier said it very clearly yesterday: We can do more."

'Hundreds, if not thousands,' premier vows

Premier Philippe Couillard said Thursday that Quebec is ready to accept "hundreds, if not thousands" of new refugees fleeing war and terrorism.

"Everybody was moved by the picture," Couillard said, referring to the devastating photograph of the body of Alan Kurdi, 3, washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he and his family was in capsized. "But guess what? There are a lot of those kinds of pictures, and one person is too many."

"It's all about what are we ready to do as Canadians, as Montrealers, as Quebecers, as citizens of the world to make sure that we are protecting them."

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 their lives in Quebec.

The refugee-selection process is a shared responsibility between the federal and Quebec governments, and Weil said Quebec depends on Ottawa to set the target for state-sponsored refugees — acknowledging that objective of 200 for this year is "pretty low."

Last January, "the cabinet took the decision that we needed to mobilize," Weil said.  She said she met with Syrian immigrants, church groups and other organizations, encouraging them to organize collective sponsorships.

Weil said as a result, 60 per cent of Canada's private sponsorships of Syrian refugees have come from Quebec groups and individuals.

Many of these are church groups sponsoring refugees of their own faith. Weil said her ministry has reached out to other groups "that would not just target Christians."

She said the calls are now coming in, fast and furiously, from people and groups that want to contribute to the humanitarian effort.

"It's similar to what happened with the boat people crisis," Weil said. "My ministry is analyzing all the avenues that are open to us."

"We're talking in the next few days about how we can streamline the process, what can Quebec do, at least for Quebec, to make [this] quicker, faster."

Most refugees from Africa

Some people have raised the concern that with the Syrian-refugee crisis gaining so much public attention, refugees from other parts of the world are being forgotten.  However, statistics from the province's immigration department indicate that's not the case in Quebec.

Of the 1,650 refugees who have been admitted to Quebec so far in 2015, the vast majority, 1,155, are from Africa.  Thirteen have come from Europe, while 130 originated in Asia and another 130 are from the Americas.


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