MONTREAL – The Quebec government announced a series of measures to take in more Syrian refugees Monday, while acknowledging it needs a green light from the federal government before they can go ahead.
As a result of the Syrian refugee crisis, the province announced it was ready to take in 3,650 refugees before the end of 2015 — 2,450 more than originally planned.
“To be able do that we need the collaboration of the federal government,” said Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s immigration minister, in a press conference.
Accompanied by International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre, Weil explained that since the federal government is in charge of border security and refugee policy, it would have to approve Quebec’s plan to bring in refugees on an accelerated timeline.
When asked about Quebec’s announcement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government had already agreed to take in additional refugees, and Quebec’s request of 2,500 was in line with what they would proportionately receive.
The Conservatives have committed to accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, whereas Quebec’s proposal was for 2015 alone.
Harper said the government was “looking at ways to speed up the process,” while protecting Canada’s security.
“It’s essential we help the most vulnerable, not only first come first serve, and we have to know exactly who these people are,” Harper said in Toronto. “We are committed to protecting our security in this process.”
Quebec’s new target would include 1,800 new privately sponsored refugees and 650 state-sponsored. Since the beginning of 2015, 651 refugees have arrived in Quebec from Syria. In 2014, the province took in 60 per cent of Canada’s total.
The measures announced by the Quebec government would cost $29 million, the bulk of which would go towards language training, job aid, education and health care.
The announcement came days after the shocking photo of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy with family connections to Canada caused a global outcry and thrust the refugee crisis to the top of international headlines.
Last week, both Quebec City and Montreal indicated their willingness to take in more refugees.
Weil told reporters the federal government had been informed of Quebec’s intentions and said she was hoping to hear back quickly.
“We’re going forward to the federal government with our hand out saying ‘we can help, we want to help, this is our objective and we need you to collaborate with us,'” she said.
The federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration was not immediately available for comment.
Weil said she would like to see Ottawa allow Quebec’s Immigration Department to send personnel to Beirut, Lebanon, in order to accelerate the refugee selection process.
St-Pierre also announced an additional $100,000 in funding for Quebec international aid organizations helping overseas, as well as a plan to create a crisis unit to liaise between government ministers and aid organizations.