TORONTO — The Ontario government says Ottawa should pledge to bring 5,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year.
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins said Friday that the federal government should not wait for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or host governments to certify refugee status, a process he said could take months, and even years.
"We can and we need to mobilize the human and financial resources now and bring thousands to Canada immediately and complete their processes here," said Hoskins as he announced a $300,000 government funding for Lifeline Syria — an organization that is trying to bring 1,000 Syrian refugees to Toronto.
The funding will be used to implement an outreach campaign to promote private sponsorships, recruit, train and support private sponsors as well as cover the cost of hiring more case workers to help refugees once they resettle in Canada.
Hoskins said previous Canadian governments have responded promptly to international humanitarian crisis, including the Kosovo War in 1999, when 5,000 Kosovo Albanians were resettled in Canada in less than a month.
"We can do this again, but we need to harness the political will and determination," Hoskins said. "We have the public determination. Now it is time for governments to heed that public call."
Other provinces also stepped up efforts to support organizations that help resettle refugees.
The Manitoba government pledged an additional $40,000 to help settlement service providers in the province accommodate hundreds more refugees in the coming months.
On Thursday, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the province has accepted 643 Syrians since the beginning of the year and expects 1,900 by the end of 2015. Couillard said Quebec is prepared to do more.
Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory has also pledged his support to Lifeline Syria by sponsoring a family to settle in the city from the war-ravaged country.
Tory said Friday he is sponsoring the family as part of a group of friends, one of whom asked him to help out just days before the photo of a drowned Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey horrified the world.
Since that image was published, Tory said, he has spoken with several Canadian mayors who want to help with the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
A spokeswoman for Lifeline Syria said private sponsorships — in which a group of five or more pledges financial support for the first year of a refugee's life in Canada — should be unlimited and matched one-for-one by government sponsorships.
Already, these groups are hampered by red tape, such as the requirement that refugees be certified as such by the United Nations or host government, Alexandra Kotyk said.
"You have to go through a rather extensive interview to get refugee status so because of just capacity the UNHCR hasn't been able to do that for many Syrians," she said.
Time is also a concern, Kotyk said. It can take a sponsor group six months to a year to get the proper paperwork and to fundraise, she said.
After that, she said, "it can take anywhere from six months to 1.5 years to get the case reviewed and for the family to arrive."
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