Ottawa discusses community role in welcoming refugees

By Nadiah Sakurai

At a city hall meeting on Feb. 3, Mayor Jim Watson and Minister of Immigration John McCallum addressed the challenges Syrian refugees face after landing in Canada.

In January, Ottawa temporarily stopped accepting government-assisted refugees because they couldn’t keep up with housing requests. But now, the government has started accepting refugees again and is working with the communities to find housing. Watson said that if there are any citizens who have housing available for rent or are able to accommodate refugees, they should contact Refugee 613.

McCallum said the government’s priority has always been to make the process of accepting refugees effective rather than to do it fast. Now that the immigration system is up and running, “the challenge now is to receive them and to settle them well,” he said. “It has been truly a wonderful national effort.”

Rouba Al-fattal, member of the Rotary Club of Ottawa, said there are many ways people in Ottawa can help Syrian refugees. The Middle East and Arab politics professor hosted a workshop in Kanata earlier this month to share the ways people can volunteer to help Syrian refugees settling in.

One big struggle that Syrian refugees face when they first arrive in Ottawa is getting through everyday life, Al-fattal said. Most of the time, Syrian refugees cannot speak English and are still learning. Even something as simple as going grocery shopping can be a struggle because of the language barrier.

This is where citizens can help, Al-fattal said.

There is a need for volunteers to drive Syrian refugees to places such as grocery stores, until their English is sufficient enough and they are adapted to living in Canada. There is also a need for volunteers to help fill out applications for refugee children at Ottawa schools.

Something as simple as having conversations with the refugees can be a significant help as well, she said.

According to the government website, when Syrian government-assisted refugees resettle in Canada, they are financially supported by the government for one year. Then, they are expected to support and finance themselves.

This means that finding jobs are crucial for resettlement. However, it is often hard for Syrian refugees to find jobs especially when they’re still learning English.

This is why Al-fattal is asking business owners to help out as well by allowing refugees to work and gain experience at their businesses.

While bringing in Syrian refugees is an important effort in the ongoing Syrian crisis, Alexandra Bugailiskis, assistant deputy minister for Europe, the Middle East and the Maghreb, also addressed the importance of helping those that are unable to flee from the Middle East.

She said that the government has been working with host communities in the Middle East, to help provide education and help with basic issues. The Canadian government is now working together with the Lebanon and Jordan governments to organize the sharing of schools with Syrian refugees. She said the schools have started to split the day, morning for local children and night classes for the Syrians.

While Canadians should be proud of their generosity in taking in refugees, Bugailiskis said, they should also realize there is good self-interest for Canada there as well.

“We are bringing in people who are hardworking, who are family oriented, and who have a tradition of tolerance and diversity, who will become amazing Canadian citizens.”

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