Misinformation, rental practices stymie Syrian refugees' resettlement in Toronto, say volunteers

Some 214 Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto Tuesday afternoon but the latest such mass transfer by the federal government has some volunteers scrambling to get them settled.

Majority of new batch of refugees are privately sponsored

Two Syrian children wait for a flight in Beirut last Thursday that would bring them to Toronto. Another flight carrying refugee families arrived at Toronto Pearson Tuesday afternoon. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Some 214 Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto Tuesday afternoon but the latest such mass transfer by the federal government has some volunteers scrambling to get them settled.

Volunteers at the Armenian Cultural Centre in north Toronto said they're facing problems finding homes for the refugees and that many landlords and superintendents aren't making things easier.

Lena Ohanessian is one such volunteer. She said some landlords are expecting refugees to provide a job letter, proof of income and banking information – items usually required in a rental application, but that refugees wouldn't have.

"They're not understanding our situation and where these people are coming from," Ohanessian said. "We're offering to pay for the entire year in advance and they're not accepting that either."

And since rental applications can typically take up to a week to process, that can mean private sponsors are racking up major hotel bills, one for each night that the refugees are without a home.

Misinformation partly to blame

Not only are some landlords not adapting their application processes to suit newcomers' cases, Ohannessian said some are also under the impression that refugees receive money from the government and are asking them to show proof of the funds.

Privately sponsored refugees do not receive any such funds, Ohannessian said.

"It's shocking because the community is coming together - everybody is coming together - to help in a certain way. But on the other hand you see people who are giving us a hard time or probably they're getting the wrong information," community centre volunteer Angelique Astourian-Kirijian said.

"It's disappointing because these people went through a lot already. They lost everything, they lost their houses, their loved ones, their business," she added.

"We worked hard for them to come there and here are the problems they're facing. And I don't think they should be facing these problems at this point."

Bulk of incoming refugees privately-sponsored

Tuesday's flight, chartered from Royal Jordanian Airlines, is the third to airlift refugees to Canada.

Two or three of the families that arrived will be government-assisted refugees, while the bulk will be privately-sponsored. That's because the private sponsorship groups began their work earlier on, Immigration Minister John McCallum told reporters Monday.

The first group of refugees arrived by military aircraft last Thursday. A second flight arrived in Montreal on Saturday.

Incoming refugees have had "one-stop shopping" processing, McCallum said, receiving permanent resident status as well as their health card when they arrive.


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