TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada prepared on Tuesday to welcome its 10,000th Syrian refugee since November, and resettlement workers said the heavy influx has gone smoothly despite a shortage of housing in Toronto and a pepper-spray incident in Vancouver.
“We had a tough time bringing in this flow of 10,000, but we are getting used to it,” said Ahmad Hematya, executive director of the Afghan Association of Ontario, which has sponsored more than 200 newcomers in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, elected in October on a promise to accept more refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government, had promised to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of December but pushed back that timeline to March because of concerns about security screening and logistics.
According to the government’s immigration website, 9,593 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada between Nov. 4, when Trudeau was sworn into office, and Jan. 11.
The mostly smooth arrival of the refugees was marred on Friday when a man riding a bicycle unleashed pepper spray on a group of refugees after a welcome event in Vancouver, according to Vancouver police.
Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack, Tweeting that it “doesn’t reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered,” and resettlement workers shrugged off the incident as not even worth mentioning, given an outpouring of public support.
Apkar Mirakian, chair of the committee helping to sponsor refugees through the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto, said the biggest challenge has been finding enough housing.
He said about 40 families are living at a city hotel temporarily but that sponsors and resettlement workers can usually find permanent housing within two weeks.
“The main objective is to get all these people to work, and then there are the children who want to go to school now that the holidays are over,” said Mirakian, whose group has overseen the arrival of 700 newcomers in four weeks.
While landing in Toronto and Montreal, refugees are also settling across the country.
In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the province’s largest refugee resettlement agency has all its beds filled. Welcome Place, run by Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, currently houses about 120 people, mostly Syrian refugees. The council is now filling temporary refugee housing in an apartment block and dormitory. Refugees stay for about two weeks before moving into more permanent housing.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Steve Orlofsky