LETHBRIDGE – A lack of communication from the federal government left Lethbridge Family Services a bit shy on key details last week, when flights expected to bring Syrian refugees to the city arrived with no families to be found.
The first family was scheduled to land at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30. After dealing with a weather delay in Toronto, the family landed in Calgary that night, only to be redirected to Edmonton by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officials.
Lethbridge Family Services wasn’t notified until hours later that the refugees would be staying with family members in Edmonton indefinitely. When asked under what circumstances CIC redirects refugees to another city, a spokesperson told Global News “the Government of Canada is working with provinces/territories, municipalities, settlement organizations and other stakeholders to ensure that Syrian refugees are destined to appropriate communities.”
“Refugees will be matched with communities where there are already settlement supports in place, with consideration given to whether they have family members in Canada, as well as the availability of schools, housing, language training, etc.”
On Thursday, Dec. 31, both Lethbridge MLAs, Mayor Chris Spearman and other local dignitaries were again left with nobody to welcome, when they were expecting a second family and no refugees stepped off the plane.
“We don’t have information yet as to why they weren’t on this flight,” Lethbridge Family Services Chief Executive Officer Sandra Mintz said at the airport Thursday. “There are three more flights scheduled today and we’ll be at the airport all three times.”
With no additional information to go off of, and no refugees arriving at all on Thursday, LFS was forced to spend New Year’s Day at both Calgary and Lethbridge airports waiting to see if the families were on their way.
“It’s not uncommon for things like this to happen at the eleventh hour, and so we just have to be prepared,” said Mintz.
“We are prepared, Lethbridge Family Services is very prepared.”
A CIC spokesperson said in an email schedule changes can mean “last-minute decisions have to be made which can affect destinations.”
“We apologize for any disruptions that may have occurred over the holidays. We are working to minimize any disruptions by modifying processes as well as augmenting teams to ensure that local organizations are aware of flight changes.”
The first Syrian refugee family finally arrived in Lethbridge Friday evening, and was greeted by Mayor Chris Spearman, Lethbridge East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick and other LFS members.
Since then, two other groups have arrived in the city.
The next group of Syrian refugees are scheduled to arrive in Lethbridge on Jan. 7, 2016.
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