Politicians reassure Burlington residents that Canada is ready for refugees


(Burlington residents meet at Mainway Auditorium to discuss the incoming Syrian refugees)

(Burlington residents meet at Mainway Auditorium to discuss the incoming Syrian refugees)


Liberal politicians and Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring reassured residents at a public forum last week that Canada is ready for an influx of 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Mayor Rick Goldring organized the event, held at Mainway Auditorium, in response to what he called “a flood of emails” he had received since the summer in regards to residents’ concerns.

A Q&A was held where around 200 residents voiced concern over how the refugees would arrive to Canada, how refugees would be selected, how refugees would be assimilated, and what the government action would be.

“The government of Canada is working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to identify people in Jordan and Lebanon, where they have an extensive list of registered refugees,” said Liberal MP Karina Gould. “Canada has asked the UNHCR to prioritize vulnerable refugees who are a low security risk, such as women at risk and families.”

The government currently has thousands of applications in process for both privately sponsored and government sponsored refugees. Gould noted that full immigration processing would take place overseas in processing centres established in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The government will deploy 500 officials to staff these offices.

Gould outlined the government’s cooperation with the UNHCR to bring refugees to Canada. “UNHCR has identified refugees, and they are actually sending text messages to refugees to say, ‘You’re a potential refugee that might come to Canada. Is this something that you’re interested in?’” said Gould. “And if they are, then they go to a government of Canada processing centre where they then go through the process.”

Refugees will receive full medical examinations at these processing centres. They will also be photographed and finger printed and cross-examined against other security databases.

Ontario is expected to receive around 10,000 of the 25,000 incoming refugees. Liberal MPP Eleanor McMahon said the Ontario government has committed $10.5 million to support the implementation of refugees. “$8.5 million will support resettlement and integration here in Ontario,” said McMahon. “$2 million of this was given to the UNHCR and the World Food Program to help with relief efforts overseas.”

Gould and McMahon said there has been federal and provincial cooperation in bringing the refugees to Canada. “Refugees will arrive on privately chartered flights with possibly some military assistance to Toronto and Montreal,” said Gould. She also noted that consideration would be given to whether refugees have family in the area, and if there is close access to schools.

Much of the heavy lifting will fall on the citizens who privately sponsor at risk families and individuals. Around 8,000 refugees will be privately sponsored. “Privately sponsored refugees are intended to be fully supported by their sponsorship groups,” said Goldring. “Five families are confirmed for Burlington and seven for Oakville.” He also stated that these privately sponsored refugees will need to be supported for one year before they can qualify for government assistance and benefits.

The general tone of the event was one of optimism and compassion. Some residents who are themselves refugees and immigrants from the Middle East spoke of how there is not much difference between Canadians and Syrians, that both are good, hard working people. Other residents compared the situation to their own migration to Canada many years ago. Gould spoke of how her grandparents were refugees to Canada.

“As the head of the UNHCR said last week, if there’s one country in the world that can handle the resettlement of refugees, it’s Canada,” said Gould.