Province launches 211 helpline for aiding Syrian refugees

Province launches 211 helpline for aiding Syrian refugeesimage

18 Nov 2015

Starting this week, Nova Scotians wishing to help in the resettlement of soon-to-arrive Syrian refugees can call 211 to offer assistance.

The toll-free phone service is a community hub to organize ground support and compile a database of whatever items Nova Scotians are willing to donate.

“This can include clothing, food, lodging or financial donations,” immigration minister Lena Metlege Diab said today at a press conference announcing the new service. But as the province prepares for a sudden influx of new residents, the biggest needs right now are people and time.

Many of the details on the refugee resettlement are still unknown. According to the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, the province still isn’t sure when, where or how many refugees will arrive.

When they do touch down in Halifax, the refugees will be transferred to (currently unknown) temporary housing for anywhere between 10 days and two weeks before being moved to (also currently unknown) permanent accommodations.

The province is waiting for specifics about the number of expected refugees and dates of arrival before solidifying any housing plans, though according to ISANS several local Halifax landlords have already “stepped up” to offer permanent accommodations for refugees in their properties.

The federal government will be covering the cost of temporary and permanent accommodations for one year. Nova Scotia is also working with roughly 60 groups who will be privately-sponsoring refugees.

Gerry Mills, director of operations at ISANS, stressed that a priority will be placed on helping these families who fled halfway across the world with virtually no possessions move into a new, permanent house they can call their own.

“Once people get in a home they usually lock their doors, like we all would,” Mills said today. “There’s a sense of safety.”

Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland over the last four years to escape attacks from ISIS and a bloody civil war. It’s expected that as many as half of the Syrian refugees headed to Nova Scotia will be children.

The newly-elected Liberal government has promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year. In the wake of last week’s deadly attacks in Paris, those plans have been criticized by some other provinces.

Quebec’s immigration minister Kathleen Weil has told the media the 25,000-refugee goal is unrealistic. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall asked prime minister Trudeau this week to suspend the government’s plans or risk endangering Canadians.

“If even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating,” Wall wrote.

At today’s press conference, Diab repeatedly waved off the concerns raised by Wall as a matter for the federal government to worry about.

“It’s up to the federal government to make sure screenings take place,” Diab said. “We trust and expect that will happen.”

The Halifax Armdale MLA began the press conference about the 211 announcement by first offering sympathies for the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, stating that Nova Scotians stand in solidarity with the French and Lebanese people.

“Nova Scotia is ready to do its part, and we must do so keeping the safety and security of Nova Scotian families as our top priority.”