The federal government has asked a Halifax-based immigration organization to prepare for an imminent influx of Syrian refugees, but there are no details yet about numbers or when the refugees may arrive.
“Right now, we are kind of clearing our desks and beginning to get ready for whatever the announcement is,” said Claudette Legault, the director of programs and services for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).
She expects details will come in before the end of the week, which coincides with prime-minister designate Justin Trudeau naming his cabinet.
Legault says ISANS is in close contact with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, including the bureaucrats tasked with expediting the applications of Syrian refugees.
She says the federal ministry has sent similar requests to immigrant settlement organizations across the country.
“I think they’re aware that there’s no way they can settle any of the numbers unless they engage the sector,” said Legault.
She says federal officials asked if her staff and volunteers are willing to work through weekends until the end of December, past the usual intake deadline of Dec. 15.
The response from staff, ISANS volunteers and volunteers in the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
Justin Trudeau’s election promise
During the federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015.
Legault says she supports that commitment, but would like to slow down the pace.
“We’re saying, ‘You might want to stretch it out a bit, do it in waves, pick a later target.’ Dec. 2016 is what we’re saying, that’s an ideal,” she said. “But again, it’s his decision in the end, so we’ll work with whatever they come up with.”
Legault says ISANS still has staff and volunteers with experience from Operation Parasol in 1999, in which 2,400 Kosovar refugees were airlifted to Nova Scotia for processing before moving on to other parts of the country.
She believes Nova Scotia could handle the influx a second time if the new government opts for a series of airlifts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.
The Nova Scotia government won’t say if it’s prepared an estimate of how many Syrian refugees the province can absorb, but a spokesperson says the province is preparing to receive them.
“We’re ready, willing and able to accept more refugees and we hope that the new federal government will send them our way,” said Kelly Bennett of the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration.