News Local

Simcoe County getting ready for refugees

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Syrian refugees. (File photo)

Syrian refugees. (File photo)

Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall knows the recent Paris attacks scared Canadians who previously would have welcomed Syrian refugees into the country.

In a statement to the county's more than 400,000 residents, Marshall said the nation's acceptance of 25,000 refugees, many of whom are believed to be women, children and families, may have waned but he believes it will rebound as the government's plans unfolds.

“I appreciate how the tragedy in Paris has caused some residents to question Canada's pledge,” Marshall said. “However, we must understand that Canada has and will always show leadership during humanitarian crises. The County of Simcoe, our municipalities and our residents share this same sense of social responsibility.”

The Liberal government's pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada – with an estimated 10,000 to Ontario – is expected be released in detail on Tuesday.

Currently, there are an estimated 10 families sponsored by a dozen churches across the region, as well as Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman's family, who expects a family of eight to arrive in Barrie by year's end.

“I am so proud that our region has stepped forward to support Syrian families in need through direct sponsorship,” Marshall said. “Given our history of acceptance, and the abundance of opportunity our region offers, I am certain we will provide a welcoming and nurturing home to a number of Syrian refugee families.

“A growing number of community members have contacted the county seeking information on how to embrace and support refugee families. While I am not surprised, I am deeply humbled and moved by the response of our residents in the wake of Syrian refugee crisis,” he added.

Marshall said he has heard about Syrian sponsorship applications from Adjala-Tosorontio, Barrie, Essa, Midland, New Tecumseth, Orillia and Penetanguishene.

Marshall said the county's 2011 immigration report – funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada – has helped the county bring together community leaders to provide support systems with language and cultural competency training, networking opportunities and an abundance of resources to help newcomers adapt to life in Simcoe County.

In the county's Local Immigration Partnership Community Settlement Strategy report, CAO Mark Aitken noted in the 2006 census – the most recent demographic statistics available for information based on ethnicity – more than 51,000 of 417,000 residents within Simcoe County – including Barrie and Orillia – identified themselves as immigrants.

Of those newcomers, nearly 3,500 arrived in Canada in the previous five years.

Sandra Lee, manager of the Local Immigration Partnership, said she sees the Syrian refugees' pending arrival as a boon for the county.

“From our perspective, this provides a real catalyst for our communities to accept diversity,” Lee said.

In 2010, a total of 650 new immigrants settled in Simcoe County directly from their country of origin, up 67% from the 260 newcomers who arrived in 2000.

Lee said each year approximately 7,000 people settle in Simcoe County, with more than three-quarters coming from across Canada.

Lee said the county has provided the web portal to assist people settling here and/or find services in the area.

“We've got settlement information, such as if you need to find a walk-in clinic, but it's also to attract people to the county. More than 50% of the visits to the site are from outside of Canada,” she said.

A special refugee sponsorship fact sheet is also available on the portal to help residents understand the county's resettlement policies, as well as offering additional resources to those hoping to assist immigrant families help settle in Simcoe County.

Who is a refugee?

  • A refugee is any person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
  • Anyone can become a refugee. No one is a refugee by choice.
  • In 2012, approximately 9% of Canada's permanent residents were classified as refugees.

Source: County of Simcoe