TORONTO – The Ontario government is pledging $10.5 million to the Syrian refugee crisis, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Saturday.
Wynne said the province hopes to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016, though she notes the provincial government doesn’t have the power to sponsor those refugees.
Refugees have been fleeing Syria en masse since 2011 when the country spun into a civil war that is estimated to have taken more than 100,000 lives.
Most of Ontario’s contribution will help “expedite the resettlement of refugees all across Ontario and support them as they build new lives here” over the next 2 1/2 years, Wynne said, adding that $2 million will go to immediate humanitarian aid on the ground overseas.
“The funding we’ve committed today will help us work with individuals, with faith based groups and with community organizations to reach our goal,” she said.
The world turned its attention to the crisis last week after a photo of drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi was widely publicized.
When Kurdi’s father said the family had hoped to come to Canada, the Harper government was criticized for not doing enough to expedite the application and resettlement process for refugees.
Wynne said that because the provincial government cannot sponsor refugees, she can’t do anything concrete to speed up the process of bringing refugees to Ontario, but she encouraged the federal government to move more quickly.
Wynne and her spouse Jane Rounthwaite have been trying to sponsor a Syrian family with a group from their church since January.
“We have not been able to move that forward,” Wynne said earlier this week. “The bottom line for me is that all of us across the country need to be doing everything we can to help in this humanitarian crisis.”
Wynne’s announcement Saturday followed a round-table discussion with new immigrants and leaders in the campaign to privately sponsor more refugees.
“Part of what we heard this morning was there is still a need for more support as more people come,” she said.
Lifeline Syria, an organization that helps private sponsors of Syrian refugees, hasn’t been able to keep up with the influx of support for their cause, said member Mario Calla.
He said they haven’t been able to respond to all the phone calls from people interested in sponsoring families. The new money will allow the organization to recruit more people to field phone calls and provide support to sponsors.
“The challenge for some (potential sponsors) is they realize they’re responsible for up to a year for the refugees,” said Calla. “What if someone makes a pledge of support and they lose their job, for example?”
So, he said, the money will also offer assurance that even if private sponsors can no longer afford the financial commitment, refugees won’t be left penniless in Canada.
Wynne’s pledge came at the same time as an announcement from the federal government that it would match up to $100 million in humanitarian aid donations.