Red Deer could soon see the largest single influx of refugees in its history with potentially 200 Syrians being resettled here by Dec. 31.
They would be government-assisted refugees and do not include those who might be sponsored privately by other groups such as churches.
Alice Colak, vice-president of Immigration and Settlement Services with Catholic Social Services, said Thursday that they are waiting for further and more concrete details, expected very soon from the federal government.
Colak, who oversees the Refugee Resettlement Centre in Red Deer, said the city could receive perhaps 30 or 40 families from the 25,000 commitment made by the federal government.
The government has already identified 10,000 possible Syrian refugees and has promised to fast-track the resettlement of 25,000 Syrians by year-end.
Millions have been forced from their homes during the country’s ongoing civil war, which has claimed the lives of about 250,000 Syrians.
Colak said Red Deer currently receives about 60 refugees per year from around the world. About 25 have come from Syria in the last year and a half.
The closest largest single influx previously would be going back to 1979-80 when those refugees known as the Vietnamese boat people arrived. “But we didn’t get 200 at that time. Not at once,” said Colak.
“We had quite a few but not 200.” Whatever the final number is, the Syrians will be arriving to tested and tried infrastructure.
There are 36 Refugee Resettlement Centres in Canada, of which Alberta has five — Red Deer, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
Catholic Social Services in Red Deer delivers the refugee resettlement program under contract with the federal government. “We’ve been doing that since 1980,” said Colak.
The system in place offers a welcome to refugees, providing them with temporary accommodation and helping them find a place to live. It also helps them with things like enrolling their children in school, getting the families urgent health services, and orientation to the community, she said.
While Colak said they are a bit in the dark still, they are trying to build on those systems already in place and determining what the impact will be on Red Deer with three times the normal number of refugees arriving in a short period of time.
“We’re looking at contingency plans.”
One of the first priorities will be where the Syrian refugees will stay.
Currently when refugees arrive here, they stay in temporary accommodation such as a local hotel, for 18 or 19 days. During that time the refugee centre helps them find permanent homes, Colak said.
“We’ve been in touch with the local hotels, to see what the capacity is. … and speaking to landlords. … Those are all the things that we are considering right now.”
Once details of when and how many refugees are known, they expect to put a call out to the community for people who can offer self-contained suites, apartments or houses for rent, Colak said.
She was hoping to learn more details about the resettlement during a teleconference involving refugee-providing organizations and the federal government, scheduled for this morning.
Government-assisted refugees receive an allowance, based on Alberta’s social assistance rates, said Colak. There are limited amounts for rent, food, clothing and so on, based on the size of the family.
Colak, who is based in Edmonton, attended a Syrian refugee public information session in Red Deer in early October. One hundred people — including a number from local churches — showed up wanting to learn more about how they can help. “I think that was a great indication of the spirit of the city. … I think people will step up.”
“Red Deer has always been welcoming and supportive of refugees wherever they come from and I think in this case also.”
“I think that photo of the little boy back in early September really prompted a lot of people to wanting to do something. So that was kind of a catalyst. A tragic story and a tragic picture that seemed to galvanize people across the land.”
The photo, which brought worldwide focus to the Syrian refugee crisis, was of a drowned small child, three-year-old Alan Kurdi. His body was found on a Turkish beach and he had died along with his mother and brother when their boat capsized while trying to reach Europe. The father, who survived, told a tragic story about losing them.
Besides being federally-sponsored, refugees may also arrive on another track — through private sponsorships such as groups of individuals, churches, and community groups who raise money on their own to support refugees for one year.
The Alberta government has given some funding so far for the crisis. It has provided $100,000 to provincial refugee resettlement centres to hold meetings and share their knowledge with other groups that want to sponsor refugees.
As well, the province has given $75,000 to the Red Cross and also matched $75,000 in personal donations to the organization.