Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good morning. Thank you for inviting the Arab Community Centre of Toronto as a witness this morning in regard to the Syria initiative.
The ACCT, the Arab Community Centre of Toronto, wishes to congratulate the federal government on its response in resettling the 25,000 Syrian refugees within the short time that it did. Thank you. From the members of the Syrian community I bring their thanks. The resettlement of the Syrian newcomers is a proud and important part of Canada's humanitarian tradition, which reflected our commitment to Canadians and demonstrates to the world that we have a shared responsibility to help those who are most in need of asylum.
The Syria initiative galvanized the whole country and brought to the fore communities that traditionally have had no part to play within the settlement sector, sponsoring groups and well-wishing Syrian volunteers.
The Arab Community Centre of Toronto responded to this initiative early on, commencing in January 2015 by partnering with Lifeline Syria, a community-based initiative aiming to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees a year through community sponsor groups. The ACCT's role was to connect with the settled Syrian Canadian community and have them act as a focal point, as Canadian contacts, for those families or friends whom they wished to have matched with community sponsors.
Lifeline Syria was formally launched in June 2015, and the Province of Ontario was the first of the funders to respond to this initiative in funding the project. The ACCT was able to hire a Syrian community worker to connect with the Canadian Syrian community. To date, the ACCT has put forth more than 750 cases to be matched, has held 12 information sessions, and has provided guidance and assistance to more than 600 Syrian community members filling in sponsorship forms.
The ACCT at that time, with inadequate staffing, requested from IRCC funding assistance towards additional staff and was turned down in October and again in December 2015. We had at that time an increase in Syrian clients accessing our services and could not keep up with the demand. Funding was made available—thankfully—in April 2016 for the addition of two full-time staff members to address the Syrian newcomer clients.
At that time, the ACCT needed to hire Syrian settlement counsellors who could reflect the Syrian newcomers' languages. Arabic is spoken in 22 Arab countries, and each country speaks Arabic with a different dialect. The Syrians are made up of Armenians, who may not understand or speak Arabic, and Syrians in the north and in the south who speak Arabic with completely different accents. We needed staffing to help us in that initiative.
As well, Arabic is understood within the 22 Arab countries through the classical, written version. Not many people speak the classical Arabic. I'll come back to that later.
From early June 2015, the ACCT worked at bringing to the escalating Syrian refugee crisis the attention of the larger community, working closely with Syrian Canadian grassroots organizations, such as the Syrian professional group, faith-based organizations, and other settlement agencies, to focus the public's attention on the issue and on creating a coordinated response. This was done through the creation of response networks delivering Syrian cultural information sessions to the sponsoring groups, settlement agencies, and other organizations across Canada.
The ACCT connected with non-traditional partners, such as landlords, employment agencies, hospitals, school boards, and so on to leverage all resources to facilitate the plan of action to honour Canada's commitment.
To maximize the efficiency of the support provided by the ACCT to the more than 100 non-Lifeline Syria sponsoring groups who access our services, we assigned a settlement counsellor and two volunteers to facilitate communication with their new families and provide active support. This initiative was provided through funding from the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto.
Commencing December 2015, again the ACCT saw itself at the heart of the Canadian response to the crisis. Five staff members were assigned to assist as interpreters and escorts at Pearson Airport.
They provided over 300 hours of service coordinated through the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, or OCASI, and Malton Neighbourhood Services. This initiative was funded through IRCC, though release of funds and information was slow to trickle down to the IRCC program officers in Toronto, who had absolutely no idea that this had been agreed upon.
The ACCT saw an increase at this time in the number of Syrians requesting our assistance. During the first quarter of 2015 there was a 9.5% increase of clients accessing our services who were Syrians. The second quarter saw an increase of 9.7%, the third quarter an increase of 15.3%, and as of April 2016, 50% of our clients are Syrians.
In December 2015 again, five partnerships were created, with the Toronto Employment and Social Services, the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Peel District School Board, and Mount Sinai Hospital for referral of clients and for cultural interpretation.
With the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the ACCT proposed that a homework and tutoring program be initiated because of the referrals and because of the information we were getting that the children who were coming in were acting out in schools. To that end, discussions are still in the works for us to set up that homework and—