A flood of Syrian refugees could be coming to Saskatchewan before the end of the year, but is the province prepared to handle it?
Darcy Dietrich is the executive director for the Regina Open Door Society (RODS) and he says yes. It will be a challenge, but he says the province has helped other large, single groups of refugees in the past, and it’s time to do it again.
RODS is one of several agencies working to find answers on the logistics of how to help the potentially thousands of refugees landing in Saskatchewan by the end of 2014.
“Absolutely, if the numbers are that high we would require some additional funding,” he said. “But, as I said, we’re fairly confident that this is an opportunity that we can really step up and utilize our current resources to meet those initial needs.”
Dietrich says the organization will be included in a national call on Friday to work out more of the details on how many refugees each province and city could be expected to take. At this point, he estimates Regina alone could be taking up to 800 Syrian refugees in addition to the 215 refugees they settle every year. It is unclear what the actual number could be.
One of the first concerns is how to house a large number of refugees right away when they arrive. Dietrich says that will involve working with local hotels and motels, but there may also be a role for the Red Cross to help with temporary housing. It will have to be all hands on deck for workers to help process the refugees when they arrive.
Donations and volunteers needed
In addition to government funding, Dietrich says RODS will be reaching out to funding partners and asking for donations and volunteers in the community. Volunteers could be matched with a refugee family or individual to help them with everything from English to social activities, employment connections and learning the basics of life and work in Saskatchewan.
“We all know that volunteerism is huge in Saskatchewan. So we’re very much hoping that we can show the Syrian refugees and others who come here that we are a very welcoming province, that we have welcoming communities and a history of volunteering,” Dietrich said. “We want to help people settle as quickly as they can and become part of our society, contributing members of our society.”
RODS currently provides more than 25 different services to all newcomers by working with many different partner agencies across all different sectors from healthcare to education, employment and housing. They help with everything from meeting refugees at the airport to health screening, filling out government forms, setting up bank accounts, finding temporary and permanent housing, language screening along with education and employment services.
Dietrich says the time it takes to adjust to life in Canada and get employment varies based on individual backgrounds like education and employment. He points out that RODS resettled more than 400 Karen refugees from Myanmar back in 2007 and another large group of Kurdish refugees in 1999.
“With refugees in particular, we very much want people to remember the experiences that they’ve been through and the trauma that most of them have been through, and that this could truly happen to anyone,” Dietrich commented.
With the exception of First Nations people, Dietrich points out that our ancestors came to Canada as newcomers to find a better life.
“Sometimes it shocks me how quickly people want to close the door behind them when their grandparents were perhaps given an opportunity,” he said.
That’s why Dietrich says Saskatchewan people should be committed to Canadian values of compassion and keeping that door open.
Saskatchewan’s Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison says the province is open to accepting more refugees, provided that Ottawa steps up with resources for housing, health and education.
“Our infrastructure in terms of resettlement is really, really stretched right now,” Harrison said.
He says it costs between $35,000 and $40,000 to provide for each government-assisted refugee. The federal government typically covers costs for the first year, but provinces are responsible for anything further.