Metro Morning

Settlement agency braces for arrival of refugees

The Armenian community may find itself overwhelmed by having to look after so many newcomers so quickly.

COSTI, an immigration service, warns about pace of resettlement in Armenian community

Syrian refugees Elo Manushian (C) arrives with her husband Hagop (L) at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto in Toronto, December 11. More Armenian refugees are arriving this week, possibly overwhelming the community. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

A plane carrying 214 Syrian refugees arrived at Pearson International Airport on Tuesday, and the city's Armenian community is scrambling to assist them.

About half the arrivals have been sponsored by the community — which has sponsored more than 1,000 families — but it may find itself overwhelmed by having to look after so many newcomers so quickly. 

Mario Calla, the executive director of COSTI, one of the city's biggest settlement agencies, said the Armenian community will likely need help.

He said the traditional patterns of immigration — one family member arrives first and saves enough for housing and to send for other members of the family — don't apply in this case. Too many Syrians are arriving at once, he said.

Calla realized the problem when he saw a map of sponsorships issued by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "There were 1,400 to 1,600 sponsorships in Toronto proper, and 1,100 in Willowdale alone," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Calla said he expects all 1,100 sponsored refugees will arrive in the next month or so.

"With an initiative of this magnitude, there's always surprises. But the Armenian community could never have anticipated that all the people they were sponsoring would arrive at once," he said.

Calla said COSTI will do its best to help. He said the agency will see close to 2,000 refugees by end of February.

He said COSTI has a relationship with Budget Hotels to offer entire hotel floors to the newcomers.