Old men who are assisted by Jesuit Refugee Services are pictured in Mweso, Congo.

CNS PHOTO | PETER BALLEIS, S.J., JESUIT REFUGEE SERVICE

Old men who are assisted by Jesuit Refugee Services are pictured in Mweso, Congo.

September 23, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

While the Syrian refugee crisis grows, most of the refugees being welcomed to Edmonton come from countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo and Eritrea.

Paulette Johnson of Catholic Social Services, the leading Edmonton agency in settling refugees, says Syrian refugees may begin arriving in the city sometime next year.

The UNHCR estimates more than two million Syrian refugees are displaced in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. About three-quarters of these refugees are women and children.

In July 2013, the Canadian government announced Canada would resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees in 2013-14 and that the majority of these refugees - 1,100 - would be privately sponsored.

CSS doesn't know how many of the remaining 200 government-sponsored Syrian refugees will come to Edmonton, if any.

However, CSS has welcomed a few Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Johnson says these refugees are taken out of Syria by bus to Lebanon and then flown to Canada from Beirut.

Canada accepts three categories of refugees: those sponsored by the government, ones that are sponsored privately by churches and community groups, and people who seek asylum in the country.

FEDERAL GOV'T CONTRACT

CSS is contracted by the federal government to provide settlement assistance to all of the government-assisted refugees that arrive in Edmonton, said Alice Colak, head of CSS' Immigration and Settlement Services.

Colak said CSS also administers the refugee program of the Edmonton Archdiocese. Since 1979 the archdiocese has welcomed more than 4,000 privately-sponsored refugees from all over the world.

The Government of Canada brings in more than 10,000 refugees annually. Out of that, Alberta receives just over 1,000 and Edmonton about 400.

Last year, CSS helped resettle most of these refugees in the city - 370 in total. This calendar year it has been contracted to resettle 390 refugees. So far only 175 have arrived, including 13 from Iraq. Most new arrivals have been in refugee camps for years before they arrive in Edmonton.

ROTARY CENTRE

CSS has a reception house for refugees in the city called Rotary Centre for New Canadians, where newcomers can stay for up to two weeks.

"During that period of time we provide them with information, we make sure they get their documents like Social Insurance and Alberta health (card)," explained Johnson.

"By the end of those two weeks, we have to have found an apartment that they can move in to."

The Edmonton Archdiocese normally sponsors from 100 to 150 refugees annually. However, in 2012 it was allowed to sponsor only eight refugees due to a cap placed by the federal government.

This fiscal year the archdiocese is able to sponsor to 40 refugees, said Johnson, who oversees the archdiocesan program.