Ottawa

Normal for Syrian refugees to want choice of housing, says parliamentary secretary

After an Ottawa settlement agency raised concerns about Syrian refugees turning down housing over its location, the parliamentary secretary for Canada's immigration minister says that's a normal request for immigrants.

Arif Virani says they want to match what refugees are interested in to what's available

After an Ottawa settlement agency raised concerns about Syrian refugees turning down housing over its location, the parliamentary secretary for Canada's immigration minister says that's a normal request for immigrants.

Arif Virani is parliamentary secretary to Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum. (CBC)

Carl Nicholson, the executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, said Thursday that some government-sponsored refugees are turning down the housing options they're offered because they want to be closer to people they know, near mosques or away from areas where they've heard gang activity exists.

Nicholson said the requests are causing complications in the settlement process and are slowing down their efforts to resettle hundreds of people.

On Friday, the parliamentary secretary to Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum said this isn't a new dynamic.

"People wanting to be closer to a place of worship is indifferent from most other groups that would like to be close to people that might speak their language or practice the same religion as them," said Arif Virani, MP for Parkdale-High Park. 

"That's normal. That's a historic feature of immigration patterns. We're rising to those challenges."

33 of 36 centres working well

Virani said settlement is working well in most communities.

"People are expressing their interest and it's constantly an issue about matching people's interest with what's available," he said.

"Obviously we want to make sure the flow of newcomers continues. And it is continuing, but it's also important for people [to] know that while we have experienced some hurdles in places like Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, there are 33 out of the 36 welcoming centres across this country that are receiving people adequately, settling them quickly and finding housing for them quickly."

Nicholson said Thursday that Ottawa settlement agencies are expecting 500 more refugees fleeing the lengthy civil war in Syria to arrive by the end of February, and those agencies don't see more affordable housing coming on the market.

In mid-January, the centre asked for and received a temporary slowdown on receiving new Syrian refugees because it had filled all 450 of its temporary housing spots.

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