Ottawa, Kingston Syrian refugee groups continue their work — with questions

People working to bring Syrian refugees to eastern Ontario say Tuesday's federal government announcement of more details still leaves them with questions and plenty of work to be done.

Refugee 613 happy for more time but looking for more numbers

Cities such as Ottawa and Kingston continue to prepare for the arrival of Syrian refugees. Capt. Jennifer Faubert says some people living at CFB Kingston have been asked to move to another part of the base to make room. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

People working to bring Syrian refugees to eastern Ontario say Tuesday's federal government announcement of more details on their arrival still leaves them with questions and plenty of work to be done.

Several cabinet ministers announced in Ottawa that while 25,000 refugees will be "identified" by year's end, they'll take in 15,000 of them in January and February 2016.

That's two months after the target the Liberals set during the recent federal election campaign and the deadline groups helping refugees had been working on, but it was welcomed by the director of Ottawa's Refugee 613.

Louisa Taylor is the director of Refugee 613. (CBC)

"I think it strikes a really good balance. It gives us a little bit more time but it doesn't take the foot off the gas in the sense of urgency," Louisa Taylor told CBC News.

"What we didn't want to have happen is the government decide that they were going to do their 25,000 over the next year and a half or two years. There's a strong sense that Canadians are ready to accept a high volume of refugees so we want to take advantage of that."

Taylor, whose group is an umbrella organization co-ordinating the City of Ottawa's refugee response, said what they need more than time is information, especially on financial help from the government.

"Every agency I know is hiring now, they're doing the work now. We're doing the work now, we were only able to hire somebody part time, we need like three people full time and that's just us, we're an umbrella organization," she said. 

"Our message to the federal government and to the provincial government is: 'The money you've said is coming, please release it.'"

'Not a glacial pace'

The executive director of Ottawa's Catholic Centre for Immigrants, which has traditionally been the receiver of government-assisted refugees in Ottawa, said he didn't hear everything he wanted to hear on Tuesday but he's not getting impatient.

"We can see where the file moving is along, it's not a glacial pace," Carl Nicholson said. "This is going at a breakneck pace compared to other [campaigns] we've been in."

Health Minister Jane Philpott chairs the government's ad-hoc committee on refugees. (CBC)

Health Minister Jane Philpott, chair of the federal government's ad-hoc committee on refugees, said in an interview that most organizations they're working with have an understanding of what's going to happen.

"Those organizations are going to get those details as time evolves over the next several weeks, to be able to know exactly which families will be going to which neighbourhood," she said.

"It requires a bit of patience, I know people are so enthusiastic to be able to welcome families and they want to know exactly who they are, but as we get closer to those dates the organizations involved will have the details of which families are going to which communities."

Mid-size cities prepare for their share

In Kingston, the mayor and community health agency said they're hearing the city of around 125,000 people may take somewhere around 600 refugees.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson says the city's first step is to figure out housing for however many refugees end up there. (CBC)

"It's actually quite a complex process, there's a whole support network that we need to be able to put in place," said Mayor Bryan Paterson.

"We think about housing that we're going to need, transit. We're looking at supplying all the refugees with bus passes, but also support services to do with health, education for the children, mental health services – certainly many of these refugees have lived through some pretty traumatic circumstances over the last few years.

"We're really trying to build that support network around them. Of course language, we need to make sure we have interpreters and that we have others that can bridge those language and cultural divides."

More than 500 troops at CFB Kingston have a letter saying they need to move to a different part of the base by Monday to make room.

"As part of our prudent planning we looked at our capability here and what we could do, that determined we had a lot of bed spaces that had to be re-allocated," said Capt. Jennifer Faubert.

"What we did is we looked at that scenario and we asked the people to move to a new location on the base so we could facilitate a good place for all our visitors."


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