Nova Scotia

Diana Whalen asks Ottawa to open door to Syrian refugees

Nova Scotia is ready to accept Syrian refugees and the federal government is well aware of the province's offer, Justice Minister Diana Whalen said Friday afternoon.

'We are willing and able. They are well aware of our interest,' Whalen says

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen said the province is eager to accept Syrian refugees. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen has asked the federal government to "open the door to Canada" and send Syrian refugees to this province.

She said Lena Diab, the province's immigration minister, has been in touch with Ottawa but there has been no response yet.

"We are willing and able. They are well aware of our interest," Whalen said Friday afternoon.

"The scope of the crisis is huge. We're trying to do something. It is almost unbelievable to see the level of suffering."

Whalen said she believes Nova Scotians are willing to privately sponsor refugee families.

Earlier on Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil said Nova Scotia has donated $50,000 to the United Nations humanitarian effort to help Syrian refugees and challenged other provinces to do the same.

Province willing to offer financial aid

Whalen said that's not the extent of the financial aid the province is willing to give, but wouldn't name a figure, saying it "is immaterial" until the federal government makes a move.

Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib, seen in an undated family photo, drowned along with their mother trying to escape Syria. (Tima Kurdi/Canadian Press)

"We can't control the numbers without the door being open to Canada. We have only had a small number of refugees since January 2014. Over 300, only 20 of those were from Syria," she said.

"We can certainly do so much more."

Whalen pointed to the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia as a focus of any refugee settlement efforts.

"We support ISANS each year, they have $650,000 for settlement work, for refugees specifically," she said.

Whalen also said the province would be able to handle an influx of refugees, as it did in 1999 when 2,400 Kosovars came here.

Premier announces $50K donation

Worldwide attention is being focused on Syria after the body of Syrian toddler, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach. His family had tried to flee the civil war in Syria by paying smugglers for a dangerous boat trip.

"Around the world, there has been an outpouring of grief for the Syrian people and their plight," said Premier Stephen McNeil in an emailed release.

"I have encouraged Canada's premiers to provide financial support and, as well, I hope Nova Scotians who are able will consider donating what they can to the refugee relief effort."

The province says Nova Scotia Minister of Immigration Lena Diab has met with her federal counterpart, Chris Alexander, numerous times over the past 20 months and has raised the issue of Nova Scotia taking more refugees, including Syrian refugees.

According to a spokesperson for Nova Scotia's immigration department, since Jan. 1, 2014, Nova Scotia has received 20 Syrian refugees, while the country as a whole has accepted 2,649.

Since that date, Canada has received 33,887 refugees from all countries, while Nova Scotia has received 360 refugees.

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