As Syrian Refugees Reach Canada, Many Are Pitching In : Parallels Canada's promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees requires a huge nationwide effort, from setting up temporary camps to teaching lawyers how to file permanent residency applications.
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As Syrian Refugees Reach Canada, Many Are Pitching In

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As Syrian Refugees Reach Canada, Many Are Pitching In

As Syrian Refugees Reach Canada, Many Are Pitching In

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Canada's newly elected government faces a challenge - how to fulfill a promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of months. The campaign pledge helped put Justin Trudeau into the prime minister's office. But resettling so many refugees isn't something the government is doing alone. As NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Toronto, it depends on the Canadian people who are stepping forward to help.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On a recent weekday afternoon, a couple dozen lawyers from all kinds of practices gathered on the 30th floor of an office tower in downtown Toronto. They were there to learn from immigration lawyer Jackie Swaisland how to do the most basic step in refugee cases - fill out an application form.

JACKIE SWAISLAND: So I'll dive right into the actual crux of the application, which is the narrative, OK? So what we're looking to get out of the narrative is basically, what was it that caused that person or that family to leave Syria at the time that they left?

NORTHAM: Swaisland has been running these training session for a couple of months in a program that she and another lawyer created to help resettle Syrian refugees in Canada. They initially approached a few lawyers to work on a pro bono basis. But then word got out, and they were flooded with calls from lawyers across the country.

SWAISLAND: So we went from about 110 lawyers across the country to almost a thousand that we have today. In about two-and-a-half months, we've been able to do that.

NORTHAM: Swaizland's program will help the Canadian government to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Across Canada, churches, communities and businesses are pitching in. Rick Cober Bauman is the executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario which helps resettle refugees.

RICK COBER BAUMAN: Certainly, it couldn't be driven by a government target alone. It needs to have many, many communities who are willingly and joyfully stepping up and saying, we want this to happen, and we want to be part of making it happen.

NORTHAM: And Canadians are stepping up to help the effort to resettle the Syrian refugees. The airlines offer to fly the Syrians from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Doctors are organizing health clinics. Groups and individuals are offering to sponsor refugees for a year. People are donating money, furniture and clothing.

MARIO CALLA: This woman called us up, and she said she knits.

NORTHAM: Mario Calla heads up COSTI, a nonprofit organization contracted by the Canadian government to help resettle refugees. He had just received 100 knitted hats donated for Syrian children.

CALLA: Beautiful, colorful, nice patterns.

NORTHAM: Calla says he's never seen such an outpouring of help in the 28 years he's been dealing with refugees. He says 25,000 may seem like a lot to many Canadians, but it's nothing like the numbers crossing into Europe this year.

CALLA: It's not an emergency for us, you know? It may be an emergency in Austria, in Germany, where they're looking at maybe 800,000 this year that they have no control over. Our government has control over how many arrive here, and it's done in a planful (ph) way.

NORTHAM: Calla says the biggest issue facing a large influx of refugees is housing.


NORTHAM: A cafeteria worker dishes out mushroom soup, sausages and potatoes for refugees staying at a small refugee center. For years, immigrants have passed through this plain, three-story building on the edge of a residential neighborhood of Toronto. Calla says it usually takes a couple of weeks to find permanent housing. The government also provides financial aid, free health care and English lessons. Overall, people are supportive, but some have objected to the attention the Syrians are getting - Cober Bauman with the Mennonite Central Committee again.

COBER BAUMAN: There are also lots of people struggling on the margins economically in Canada who have to be asking - and some of them are asking openly - why this groundswell of support for someone that we don't know when there are many people struggling, literally, in our neighborhoods and in our own communities.

NORTHAM: And some have expressed concerns, like in the U.S., about whether the refugees represent a security threat. The government says there are several rounds of screening before any refugee gets on a plane and that the country will fulfill its pledge to have all of them here in Canada by the end of February. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Toronto.

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