Sask. prepares for 2,000 Syrian refugees in 45 days, while Premier Wall calls for pause

Settlement agencies in four Saskatchewan cities prepare to welcome two thousand refugees in the next eight weeks, despite debates over security screening and settlement issues.

'It's doable,' says refugee agency in Saskatchewan

Syrian refugees Mohammed Al Assaf and his wife, Ghorop, resettled in Regina in October 2014. They hope their family members will be included in the wave of 25,000. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Local agencies in Saskatchewan cities are scrambling to prepare for 2,000 refugees by Dec. 31st, even as Premier Brad Wall pleads with the Liberal government to reconsider its quota and deadline of 25,000 Syrian refugees by year's end.

Regina and Saskatoon are preparing for nearly 800 refugees in each city, while Moose Jaw and Prince Albert expect to each receive roughly 200 refugees.

"I think we can handle the number that is being projected," Darcy Dietrich, executive director of Regina Open Door Society, said.

Saskatchewan's premier previously said the province could handle at least 600 refugees, but Monday publicly criticized the Liberal's "arbitrary" Dec. 31 deadline given during the federal election campaign. Wall called on the prime minister to suspend the plan over "genuine concerns" about security screening and settlement issues.

Local agencies, which have no control over security or selection, are still preparing for a mass influx in the next eight weeks.

"Despite what happened in Paris, the calls continue today," Dietrich told CBC News.  "We are getting all sorts of emails with offers to help."

There are no formal plans yet, but the Regina agency is estimating that it will receive 770 Syrian refugees, on top of the 250 refugees it normally welcomes each year.

The 300 per cent increase would require more federal funding, volunteers, and staff, including case workers, Arabic translators, and English instructors.

Dietrich said it would be much easier to deal with five or 10 new families a week, rather than hundreds of refugees in one wave. His plan is to house the refugees in hotels or motels then move them into rental housing in the city.

"It is not unlike a forest fire evacuation," Donna Brooks, executive director of the Prince Albert YWCA, said. "Just like the northern fire evacuations, the plan is to house the new arrivals in hotels, as needed, until they find other accomodation."

Brooks said they are already making appointments with banks, health districts and landlords, despite the lack of information on exact numbers or individual needs.

Moose Jaw Multicultural Council is preparing for 210 Syrian refugees.

"It's definitely doable," executive director, Stefanie Palmer said. "It's more than we're normally used to, but our community is strong."

The agencies agree that resettling refugees can be a complex process and requires much more than finding housing.

Mohammed Al Assaf and his family arrived in Regina just over a year ago. He and his wife were in limbo for seven months, sitting on a waiting list for English classes. The mechanic can't find a job with his limited English and is now collecting social assistance.

"They need assist with everything, basically, if they don't have any English," the family's translator, Fidaa Siad, said.

The Regina Open Door Society said other refugees are able to hit the ground running after a half hour orientation.

"It will depend on their background, what they've been through, their education, their employment background," Dietrich said. "We don't know who's coming."


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