November 24, 2015 7:46 pm

Unanswered questions from the Liberals’ Syrian refugee strategy

WATCH ABOVE: Health Minister Jane Philpott discusses federal government's refugee resettlement strategy.

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The federal Liberals unveiled the first details of its plan to resettle Syrian refugees: The 25,000 people Canada’s bringing in will be here by the end of February, instead of December; 60 per cent of them will be government-assisted, instead of 100 per cent. They probably won’t be sleeping in army barracks.

READ MORE: A step-by-step guide to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees

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But there are still plenty of  unanswered questions when it comes to Canada’s refugee resettlement plan.

Here are a few of them.

Who goes where?

Cities and provinces across the country are bracing for a refugee influx. But it’s tough to prepare when you don’t know how many people to expect and when.

Privately sponsored refugees will live with their sponsors. Government-assisted refugees will be matched with a Resettlement Assistance Program in one of about 36 communities.

But that’s all we know so far.

The Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal areas, as traditional newcomer hubs, will likely see a lot of refugees. These metropolises also happen to be experiencing grinding affordable housing shortages. It’s still unclear where these new Canadians will live.

READ MORE: No, Canada doesn’t spend more on refugees than on retirees

Health care for whom?

Meb Rashid knows one thing for sure: He’s going to be even busier very, very soon.

Rashid is medical director of Toronto’s Crossroads Clinic. He’s delighted Canada’s stepping up its refugee resettlement game.

He’d also like some more details.

“I think, now, people put on their seatbelts and the ride begins.”

If the emphasis over the next several weeks is on privately sponsored refugees, the Toronto area will get a lot of them: Almost half (about 47 per cent) of Canada’s refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders are in Ontario.

But thanks to the federal government’s cuts to refugee health care in 2012, privately sponsored refugees in Canada won’t get benefits such as medication, emergency dental and eye care or prosthetics.

READ MORE: Canada won’t say when refugee health care will be restored

Traumatized or mentally scarred individuals won’t be able to access counselling services from non-physicians.

“If there’s a young person who’s 22 years old and can’t see the blackboard when they’re going for English classes … or if someone needs a prosthetic because they have a leg that’s been blown off. those costs can be quite significant,” Rashid said.

Health Minister Jane Philpott reiterated the government’s pledge to reverse the 2012 cuts at Tuesday’s announcement. But she wouldn’t say when that will happen.

The last information Global News has received from Citizenship and Immigration was that it could take months.

In the meantime, the unequal access persists. Even in provinces that have set up interim plans to bridge the gaps, health practitioners daunted by red tape turn people away.

“If you have two people who live side by side in Beirut or Jordan, perhaps in the same refugee camp, one comes here [as a government-assisted refugee] and they have the same coverage as low-income Canadians. … And their neighbour, who arrives here privately sponsored, doesn’t have that coverage.”

In the meantime, thousands of people coming to Canada may not be able to access the care they need. And clinics like Rashid’s will be more strained than ever.

“We really are hoping they restore coverage over the next few days,” Rashid said.

Fuzzy priorities

The feds have said they want to prioritize “complete” families and women who are “at risk.”

What does that mean?

Would one parent and a child or children count? What about an aunt, uncle, grandparent with a child, or two brothers, or an uncle and niece?

And who will determine which women are most at risk?

Despite the unanswered questions, Rashid is optimistic. He’s been swamped with calls from physicians wanting to volunteer at his clinic.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge but I have no doubt Canadians are up to it,” he said.

“I think there’s something inherently Canadian about reaching out to people who need help.”

WATCH: Immigration Minister John McCallum discusses Ottawa’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees

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