Feds are 'there for photo-op' not 'to follow up' when it comes to refugees: Sask. MLA

Saskatchewan’s immigration minister says the Government of Canada has not done enough to help the province resettle refugees. The comments come only days after Saskatchewan joined Ontario in choosing not to sign the official communique at the meeting of immigration ministers.

Province spends around $15 million a year on services for government-assisted Syrian refugees

In a statement, Minister of Immigration and Career Training Jeremy Harrison called on the Canadian government to fully fund health, social assistance and employment supports for asylum seekers and recently arrived government-assisted refugees. (CBC News)

Saskatchewan's immigration minister says the Canadian government has not done enough to help the province resettle government-assisted refugees.

"There was an understanding and commitment from the Federal Government that they would be there with significant support for job training, housing, language training for newcomers into the country," said Jeremy Harrison in an interview Monday.

"They have been there for virtually none of the support that they committed to."

The comments come only days after Saskatchewan joined Ontario in choosing not to sign the official communique at the meeting of immigration ministers.

"It is the Government of Saskatchewan's position that the government of Canada fully fund supports for asylum seekers that have arisen from recent federal policy decisions," Harrison said in a statement following the meeting on Friday.

"Canada has yet to follow through on a commitment to fully support refugee transition and there is now added pressure for provinces to also support asylum seekers."

40,000 refugees since 2015

On Monday, Harrison said he is more specifically concerned with government-assisted refugees, not so much asylum seekers, as Saskatchewan is not as heavily impacted by asylum seekers as Ontario and Quebec are. 

Since 2015, Canada has welcomed over 40,000 Syrian refugees. These refugees are broken into three categories: government-assisted refugees, blended visa office-referred refugees and privately sponsored refugees.

In Saskatchewan, 1,438 refugees have arrived since November 2015, just under 1,300 are government-assisted. Some of the biggest settlements have been in Regina, and Saskatoon with around 500 each.

Harrison said the provincial government spends around $15 million a year to provide services for Syrian refugees.

He said half of that, $7.5 million, is allocated to education and learning supports. Around $5 million is for social services like income and housing supports and $3.5 million is for health care.

Harrison said supporting refugees has become "entirely a provincial responsibility," and claims the province hasn't received any financial backing from the federal government.

Need for long-term commitments

CBC Saskatchewan reached out to the Canadian government Monday morning. They said Harrison's claims are not true.

A spokesperson for federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said, last year alone, Canada spent $1.1 billion on refugee settlement supports.

The supports include the Resettlement Assistance Program that gives government-assisted refugees immediate supports from pre-arrival to Canada and up to one year after they arrive.

Supports include, temporary housing, orientation to the community they will be living and personal finance.

Harrison acknowledged the immediate supports refugees receive in the first year of coming to Canada, but said that's not the issue he wants to fix.

"I'm talking about the commitments for further long-term support for job training, for language training, for housing supports," he said.

"That was the commitment we heard from Government of Canada that would go beyond the one-year support frame."

Further comment has yet to be received from the federal immigration minister about long-term commitments.

'Isn't there to follow-up'

Harrison said he won't put an exact number on what he wants from the Canadian government, but said he simply wants to engage in a discussion with them about the needs within the provinces.

He said the two issues that need support the most are skills and language training.

"I'm not talking about exorbitant amounts of resources within the context of the federal budget, but we need them to have a commitment and to work with us on providing those services and working with third party organizations as well who deliver a lot of that programming," he said.

"So that's where you see the frustration, that's where you see the the challenge in dealing with a national government that's there for the photo-op, but isn't there to follow-up, even though they made commitments to do so."