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Council weary of wading into Syrian refugee issue

Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees that have made their way to Europe rest at the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. The Oshawa Syrian Refugee Alliance is aiming to bring 100 refugees to the city. Some city councillors say they want to wait on how the federal government will handle the influx of refugees first.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Some councillors are putting the brakes on a plan to bring Syrian refugees to Oshawa.

Derek Giberson, a member of the Oshawa Syrian Refugee Alliance, appeared before city council Monday evening to discuss the group’s plan to bring 100 Syrian refugees to the city.

Giberson was looking for council to support a declaration that they are in favour of the alliance’s plans, which he says will help reintegrate any refugees that eventually settle in the area.

“We need to help people build a new life, not just get them out of harm’s way,” Giberson said.

The current crisis in Syria – the result of a civil war that has been waging in the region since 2011 – has caused the deaths of approximately 250,000 people, displaced 7.6 million people and created about 4.1 million refugees who are attempting to flee the war-torn country.

Nearby Lebanon has been inundated with Syrians seeking a better life and several European countries, initially open to the human flood, have started raising alarm bells.

However, newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following up on his campaign promise, has pledged to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country. If he is to be successful, it means nearly 490 refugees will need to be brought into the country every day until Dec. 31.

How that is going to happen remains unclear, with a strategy still in the works at the federal level – it is this fact that has Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki on edge.

He says that it may be premature to make any decisions on the issue prior to the federal government’s lead.

“Once you start making decisions on what you as a city or a region or a provincial government are prepared to do…once you start down that path…you get stuck with it. There is no turning back,” he says.

However, Giberson says there’s nothing to stop them from initiating the process, especially with local organizations already in the process of assisting in the crisis.

“There’s certainly nothing to stop us from building that conversation and that network,” he says.

Councillor Bob Chapman noted that the types of social services and social housing that would be required by many of these refugees are actually not under the city’s purview.

“I’m talking about some of the expertise…in dealing with immigrants. That expertise lies at the region, not at the city,” he said.

But Councillor Doug Sanders disagreed, claiming that as council sat back to wait and see what the federal government would do, more people could be dying.

“I don’t think we should wait for the federal government…I think what happens is you need to bring the community together,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Councillor Amy England brought forward a notice of motion for council to endorse the alliance’s plans in principle. It will appear on council’s next agenda on Nov. 30.