Ex­cite­ment pal­pa­ble as refugees set to ar­rive

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA -

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.

AP PHOTO

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...

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