Refugee sponsors crowd Toronto city hall to learn what's available to newcomers

More than 500 people sponsors crowded Toronto city hall Tuesday night to learn where they can find help as sponsors for the estimated 2,600 Syrian refugees who will arrive in the Greater Toronto Area by March.

More than 40 agencies answer questions about services

More than 40 Toronto area agencies filled city hall Tuesday night to help sponsors of Syrian refugees learn about the available resources. (CBC News)

Basheer Mohammed joined the more than 500 people who crowded Toronto city hall Tuesday night, armed with questions about the overwhelming task of resettling a refugee family touched by the Syrian civil war.

How will he and co-sponsors find a family doctor who speaks Arabic? he asked. Will the schools offer counselling for children who are leaving a conflict zone?

"It's scary as hell," Mohammed said. "It's such a huge task. There's so much that needs to be done."

And, like so many of those who will be sponsoring the estimated 2,600 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in the Greater Toronto Area by March, it's Mohammed's first time.

Divided responsibilities

The Mississauga man, however, said that his group has divided all the responsibilities so that no one person gets overwhelmed. Several doctors will navigate the health-care system, retirees can help their family during the day and other volunteers have offered to act as part-time translators.

Mohammed said he found some comfort as the answers began to come in from the staff and volunteers at the roughly 40 public and non-profit groups whose services the refugees can access.

The information session is the first of several the city will host in the next few months. Housing agencies, two school boards, the Canadian Red Cross, Toronto Police Services and Public Health were among those organizations teaching the sponsors about the help available to them — like language classes at public libraries.

'Can we do this?'

Winnie Hunsburger spent Monday night with her co-sponsors sharing their fears about helping a family get settled. Overwhelmingly, the group found they worried about finding their family a place to live, she said.

"I went from feeling like, 'Oh, my gosh, can we do this? to seeing the services that are available in this city," she said Tuesday. "It makes me a bit weepy."

Hunsburger said she found numerous agencies that can help her group of eight find a home for the newcomers, easing some of her fears.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't think it'll be easy… but there's a sense now that there are people to turn to for help."


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