Quebec's Syrian resettlement plan 'chaotic', refugee advocate says

Quebec’s plan for resettling up to 5,400 Syrian refugees is "very chaotic" and needs to be better co-ordinated, says the head of a provincial coalition of 140 immigrant and refugee support groups.

Head of a Quebec coalition of 140 immigrant and refugee support groups says response lacks co-ordination

Montreal-area schools will soon be welcoming up to 2,400 Syrian children. (Akli Aït Abdallah)

Quebec's plan for resettling up to 5,400 Syrian refugees is "very chaotic" and needs to be better co-ordinated, says the head of a provincial coalition of 140 immigrant and refugee support groups.

Stephan Reichhold, director of la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, said Quebec's response is well behind that of cities like Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto.

A big part of the problem is a lack of both communication and details, he said.

"The cities are doing things, [Montreal Mayor Denis] Coderre is doing things, but they don't talk to each other," Reichhold said.

"Everybody is doing scenarios and plans, but nobody knows when, how, and how many. People should prepare, yes, but at the moment it's very chaotic."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of year, but the federal government is still working out the details of its plan for doing so.

In an interview with Radio-Canada Thursday, Reichhold said Syrian refugees could begin arriving in Canada as early as Dec. 1.

He said up to 1,000 could arrive daily in Canada on flights out of Jordan.

Many players add to confusion in Quebec

Reichhold said part of the confusion in Quebec stems from the fact most of the refugees are to be settled in 10 or 11 destinations around the province. 

"The minister of immigration for Quebec is doing the planning and we're talking to them, but there is difficulty co-ordinating at the moment," Reichhold said.

Another problem is the number of agencies in Quebec that have a role in the resettlement process, he noted.

Stephan Reichhold says the many players involved in Quebec's Syrian refugee response need to talk to each other. (CBC)

"Here in Quebec you have 13 agencies, so there are a lot of co-ordination challenges here. In British Columbia, there is one agency for the whole province, so it's much easier to deal with one agency," he said.

Main challenges

Some of the biggest challenges will occur in the first weeks after the Syrians' arrival in Quebec, when they're being settled in communities around the province.

"Finding apartments, finding schools, finding language training, these are big challenges," Reichhold said.

Quebec has already approached school boards in the province to make plans, including Montreal's French-language school board, the Commission scolaire de Montréal.

The CSDM is one of three school boards in Montreal asked to make room for up to 2,400 Syrian children between the ages of four to 17.

At the moment, Montreal's English school boards have not been approached.

A provision under Quebec's language law — Bill 101 — specifies that only immigrants to Quebec who have parents who were educated in English in the province or elsewhere in Canada can go to English-language schools.

Traumatic experiences

Many children and adults being resettled will be dealing with the trauma of their experiences in Syria and in the refugee camps many have called home for the last two or three years.

Reichhold said they will be well-served in Quebec.

"They've seen horrible things. Kids will have traumatized memories. But the resources are there, we're used to working with these people." he said.


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