Excitement palpable as refugees set to arrive
Hundreds of people devoted to helping refugees gathered for the start of a national three-day conference on Thursday with a renewed spring in their step and a barely contained excitement.
In the following days and weeks, the first wave of 10,000 Syrian refugees will begin arriving in Canada — the government has said by the end of the year — dominating talk at the fall consultation of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Deborah Tunis, a longtime employee with the federal government, came out of retirement to become the top bureaucrat in charge of the Syrian resettlement effort.
It’s an opportunity to participate in an important national project, make a contribution, and make a difference in people’s lives, Tunis said in an interview.
“Our assistant deputy ministers this week said this is the most exciting, exhilarating thing they’ve worked on,” Tunis said.
“For many people in the department, they’ve been wanting to work on this kind of a project for a long, long time — it’s why people come to work.”
The logistics, however, of providing that welcome is a daunting challenge — even for groups and organizations that have spent years helping refugees.
Jennifer Bond, an Ottawa professor now providing expert advice to the new refugee minister, said what’s different is the change in attitude at the highest levels in the country.
“For the first time in more than a decade, we have a government committed to refugee protection,” Bond said.
At the same time, she stressed, Ottawa needs significant support and co-ordination from other levels of government and local groups.
“This is truly an incredible mobilization,” Bond said.
The Liberal government has also promised to resettle another 15,000 displaced Syrians by the end of February. In addition, private groups are sponsoring their own refugees.
The government has mandated the priority is to help the most vulnerable Syrians come to Canada and a huge challenge, Bond said, is how to identify those.
One aim is to help complete families make the move, leading to reports that single men would be excluded from the program.
Tunis, however, said there had been no explicit directive from the assistant deputy minister during a technical briefing to exclude single men but said families, women, children and sexual minorities at risk take precedence.
Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece, in this file photo. When Syrian refugees begin arriving in Canada in the coming weeks, one of the top priorities will be providing the migrants with...