Syrian refugees resettled in more towns as Ottawa nears its target

The federal government announced today some of the next cities and towns to receive Syrian refugees, as the total number brought into Canada since the Trudeau government assumed power ticked closer to 25,000.

Many refugees are illiterate in Arabic and cannot speak, read or write in French or English

RCMP acting Sgt. Lina Dabit hands out water and colouring books to Syrian refugees in Jordan bound for Canada. (RCMP)

The federal government announced today some of the next cities and towns to receive Syrian refugees, as the total number brought into Canada since the Trudeau government assumed power ticked closer to 25,000.

Three new cities are being added to the list of those that will receive refugees in the coming days: Leamington and Peterborough in Ontario, and Brooks, Alta. Immigration officials also revealed that Victoria has agreed to accept 315 refugees.

As of midnight Tuesday, 23,439 Syrians had reached Canada, of which 13,439 are government-sponsored refugees, and 7,921 are privately sponsored. An additional 2,034 came in under a blended system that combines elements of government and private sponsorship.

The Trudeau government says just over half of the refugees now in Canada already have permanent housing.

Nine hotels around Pearson airport in Toronto and Trudeau airport in Montreal have been acting as "welcome hotels" for Syrian refugees.

Officials say they have succeeded in reducing the average wait-time in those hotels to a few days before new arrivals move on to other towns and cities.

In order to address concerns about the lack of suitable housing in Vancouver, Immigration has already begun to channel refugees headed for B.C.'s Lower Mainland into suburban areas such as Surrey and Coquitlam.

In future, the federal government will aim to send more refugees to B.C. Interior towns such as Vernon and Abbotsford. Officials say they are also in talks with Prince George.

Ankara processing halted

At its peak, the refugee evacuation kept 400 staff working full-time in Canada, and 600 across the Middle East. But the government has now closed its Ankara, Turkey, processing centre, which handled the third-largest contingent of refugees after Beirut and Amman, Jordan.

One official described the current stage of the refugee exodus as "the end of the beginning," stressing that the federal government remains committed to bringing in 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of 2016.

The fast-track processing centres in Amman and Beirut are also expected to close in the coming weeks. The government says it expects to inform the Canadian Forces fairly soon that it can stand down its mobilization of two airbases involved in the evacuation.

Education and language challenges

Transporting and housing refugees, however, is only part of the challenge associated with helping Syrians to make Canada their new home. Officials say differences in education levels among the refugee streams from Syria will create challenges for the new arrivals.

Government-assisted refugees, for example, typically have lower levels of education than those who came through private sponsors. And fewer than 10 per cent of government-assisted refugees have any knowledge of one of Canada's official languages.

Refugees coming through Lebanon tend to be better educated than those arriving from Jordan.

Those involved in the refugee effort say most of the Syrian refugees in Jordan come from farming and labouring backgrounds in Syria's more rural south, while refugees who reached sanctuary in Lebanon are more likely to be from the country's economic and cultural powerhouse of Aleppo.

Immigration officials say it is normal and expected that new arrivals will devote several months of intense effort to learning one of Canada's official languages. They say language ability is essential not only to obtain paid employment, but also to be able to understand instructions in order to be safe in the workplace.

Many of the refugees arriving in Canada are not only unable to speak French or English, but also illiterate in Arabic, posing a major challenge to efforts to integrate them into Canada's society and economy.


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