Nfld. & Labrador

'No cap' on number of Syrian refugees N.L. can accept

Changes to immigration rules in Canada mean Newfoundland and Labrador has the potential to welcome an unlimited number of Syrian refugees, but the Association for New Canadians says it's not an easy process.
Ken Walsh, program co-ordinator at the Association for New Canadians, says there's no cap limiting the number of Syrian refugees who can come to Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Changes to immigration rules in Canada mean Newfoundland and Labrador can welcome an unlimited number of Syrian refugees, but the Association for New Canadians (ANC) says it's not an easy process.

Ongoing conflict in Syria has displaced millions of refugees to neighbouring countries.

Less than two dozen Syrian refugees have made it to the province so far, all sponsored by family members already in Canada.

The association became the official agent for arranging private sponsorships of refugees less than a year ago. Initially it was given a cap of 16 cases over two years.

Program co-ordinator Ken Walsh said that restriction has since been lifted.

"There's no cap on the number of Syrian refugees, the government of Canada has actually allowed us to sponsor as many Syrians as we see fit, as we can," said Walsh.
A number of programs and supports, including English classes, are available to immigrants at the Association for New Canadians in St. John's. (CBC)

He said while there are programs and supports in place to assist refugees coming to Canada, the number of Syrians able to immigrate depends a lot on the local community.

"There is no public funding for this program so it relies on the financial assistance from groups, individuals in the community that kind of want to partner with the ANC to help sponsor these individuals and families," he said.

Still, the process isn't simple. There's a financial commitment on the part of the sponsor, and there may be a backlog of visa applications depending on the number of refugees in the system.

Walsh said this past week he's seen a significant increase in the number of people and groups interested in becoming sponsors.

"I've gotten probably a dozen emails and phone calls just in the past 24 hours with respect to kind of trying to sponsor refugees — Syrian refugees — to come here," he said.

"We'd like to see more. In terms of the Syrians, there is no cap so we can help as many people as the community is open to assisting us with, but yes we are poised and ready to help more people if they arrive."

The association is putting out a call to any group or private citizen with the will and resources to support a refugee or a family of refugees for at least one year. Walsh said anyone interested should contact his office.

Two public information sessions will be held at the association's office in St. John's next week for anyone interested in learning more.