Syrian refugee housing numbers improving, next step is finding jobs: McCallum

Progress has been made on finding housing for Syrian refugees and the next big challenge is getting them a job, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

MONTREAL — Progress has been made on finding housing for Syrian refugees and the next big challenge is getting them a job, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.

Recent figures suggest 69 per cent of the refugees outside Quebec have found permanent accommodation, up from 52 per cent a few weeks ago, he said.

“When you have huge numbers of refugees coming in at the same time, you never solve the problem overnight,” McCallum noted.

“There are always hiccups and bumps along the road, but I think the speed with which the housing issue has been addressed augurs well.”

The numbers don’t include those from Quebec, which has its own program and where housing hasn’t created the same dilemmas as in the rest of the country.

McCallum says the problem was most pronounced in larger cities like Vancouver and Toronto, where 50 per cent of refugees have now found homes, up from 30 per cent a few weeks ago.

The immigration minister says most should be housed by the end of April and the rest by the end of June.

The Trudeau government met its initial goal of accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees at the end of February.

Finding jobs for refugees becomes the next priority and McCallum is speaking this week with industry representatives in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Government-sponsored refugees don’t often have a lot of education, but McCallum is confident refugees will be able to find work after getting some language education.

“I know there are many companies keen to employ these individuals and I know there are many industries in Canada with relatively low-skilled labour that have had chronic problems filling those jobs,” McCallum said.

He was speaking at the Foundation of Greater Montreal’s announcement of $750,000 worth of aid to local groups sponsoring Syrian refugees.

Community Foundations of Canada announced it had given the money to the Montreal group from the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees — seeded by Manulife Financial in December.

Canadian National Railway is donating $5 million, and General Motors putting in money also.

The Foundation of Greater Montreal says the money will be doled out by the Red Cross and Pascal Mathieu of the aid agency said it has already started talking with different sponsorship groups to see what they need.

Greater Montreal has the largest Syrian population in the country, so 95 per cent of refugees here are sponsored by family, while 80 per cent in the rest of the country are state-sponsored.

Between January 2015 and March 2016, the Montreal area welcomed 4,411 of the 5,326 Syrian refugees in Quebec. Another 4,250 sponsorship applications in the province have been accepted and are awaiting federal approval.

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