The program to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada (3): The settlement program

120310-EdmontonIWD-002crop(March 5) – On February 28 the government of Canada announced that as of that date 25,323 Syrians have been brought to Canada as refugees and been given permanent resident status, meeting the Liberals’ own February 29 deadline. Of those 14,418 were government-assisted refugees (GARs). Meanwhile, 2,179 were Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR), meaning the government will provide support for the first six months, following which private sponsors will provide support for another six months. The remaining 8,726 were completely privately sponsored.[1]

Initially, the Liberals had said they would bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of 2015 under the GAR program that sees the government take on the full cost of a person or family’s resettlement for twelve months. The Liberal campaign platform said they would work with private sponsors to do even more. The original total of privately sponsored refugees was to be 10,000. Following the election the Liberals changed the deadline to resettle that many GARs by the end of 2016. They then set a new target of resettling 25,000 people in total from all three refugee categories by the end of February 2016. While the government has said it intends to achieve its initial target of bringing 25,000 government-assisted refugees to Canada, it has not yet announced a cap on how many private sponsorship applications it will approve.

In addition to Syrian refugees who had arrived in Canada as of the end of February the government announced that there were also 12,098 refugee resettlement applications in progress and another 3,123 that had been finalized, with none of these having yet come to Canada. This could make for roughly 15,000 more Syrian refugees potentially coming to Canada. The government did not indicate what portion of these were government-assisted and which were partially or completely privately sponsored.

Canada’s program for selecting GARs has focused on refugees currently living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Syrian Kurdish refugees barred by Turkey near Kobani, October 2014

Syrian Kurdish refugees barred by Turkey near Kobani, October 2014

In Jordan and Lebanon, Syrians living in refugee camps have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and referred for possible resettlement in Canada. In Turkey it is the government of Turkey that is responsible for registering and communicating with Syrian refugees referred to Canada’s program. One of the requirements for refugees who eventually come to Canada as government-assisted refugees is that in addition to being unable to return to their country of origin, they must also be without a reasonable prospect, within a reasonable period, of a durable solution in a country other than Canada.

Concerns over housing

At the February 28 announcement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum indicated that one of the big issues that led to (so far) four new communities being designated as Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) centres and therefore eligible to receive GARs is that finding housing, especially for large families, is a problem.

Forty-eight per cent of Syrian refugees in Canada are said to still be without permanent housing. Some have been staying in hotels for months in what appears to be a permanent holding pattern while they wait for housing. “[In] some parts of Canada, 80 per cent or more [Syrian refugees] have received permanent housing, but the lowest number are Toronto and Vancouver, the two biggest cities, and that is why we are enlisting other cities and towns to be more active in British Columbia, in Ontario, to reduce the pressure on those two cities,” McCallum said.

While affordable housing is already an issue in most Canadian cities, it is much worse for families with more than two to three people. It is unclear how the government plans to resolve the problem. One issue with the increased number of privately-sponsored and BVOR refugees is that the sponsors are responsible for almost all aspects of settlement such as housing and food.

McCallum announced that settlement service provider organizations in Leamington and Peterborough, Ontario and Brooks, Alberta have been selected as new Resettlement Assistance Program providers, enabling those three communities to start receiving GARs. This brings the total number of communities serving as destinations for GARs to 37 across the country.[2]

Situation in Quebec

In Quebec the total number of Syrian refugees of all categories that had arrived by February 28 was 5,199. Of these only 848 were government-assisted while 4,351 were privately sponsored. Asked specifically why so few GARs had arrived in Montreal, a spokesperson for the Quebec Immigration Department told the Montreal Gazette that since Montreal was already receiving so many privately sponsored refugees – many of whom were being sponsored well before Trudeau took over the Prime Minister’s Office – the GARs were mostly sent elsewhere. He also said Quebec’s plan was to spread the GARs it did receive among 13 destination cities in the province. Montreal is reported to have the largest Syrian community in Canada – some 17,000 people, representing 40 per cent of all Syrian Canadians.

Overall immigration targets to be released March 9

The high number of Syrian refugees could displace other classes of immigrants attempting to come to Canada, news reports say. In its 2015-2016 immigration plan, the previous Conservative government planned to take in up to 285,000 immigrants. Targets included up to as many as 186,700 economic immigrants, up to 68,000 family class and 30,200 in humanitarian streams that include refugees. Asked how the possible increase in those coming from the humanitarian stream would affect the total number of immigrants Canada will admit in the coming year, McCallum said there were limits to how much “the pie” could be expanded and so there would be tradeoffs. The Liberals’ immigration targets for 2016-17 were expected to be tabled March 9.

The Globe and Mail reported that McCallum’s commitment to increase the total number of immigrants in order to account for Syrian refugees this year “could make the Trudeau government the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.” In 1912 and 1913 Canada accepted 375,756 and 400,870 immigrants respectively. However, the total population of Canada during those years is estimated at 7,389,000 and 7,632,000 respectively. The Canadian population as of October 2015 was 35,985,751.

Locations of settlement

Those brought to Canada as GARs and BVORs have been initially placed in 37 designated cities where there is an existing Resettlement Assistance Program Service Provider Organization (or Quebec equivalent). These organizations provide immediate and essential specialized services for refugees. When communities that have received privately-sponsored refugees since November 4 are added, the total number of communities that have received Syrian refugees increases to roughly 270.

For a chart showing the locations of settlement as of February 28 for Syrian refugees in Canada where more than five people have settled, click here.


  1. For background on the Canadian refugee system and the selection and screening process established for Syrian refugees see TML Weekly, November 28, 2015 – No. 37.
  2. Of note is that besides having government funded settlement services, Leamington is a centre for the greenhouse and vegetable packing industry while Brooks is a centre for beef processing which also has employed temporary foreign workers as well as many new immigrants. Both have used many temporary foreign workers in the past and the lack of long-term workers has been a concern raised by companies in both industries as after four years permits for what are called low-skilled temporary foreign workers expire and workers status is in limbo. Thousands of these workers status expired in April 2015, the deadline for expiration set by the Harper Conservatives.

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  1. Pingback: The program to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada (2): Defend the rights of all | Tony Seed's Weblog

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