Mr. Chair, committee members, thank you.
The Maison internationale de la Rive-Sud and I are pleased and honoured to appear today before the committee studying the Syrian refugee issue.
The Maison internationale de la Rive-Sud is a community organization that helps welcome newcomers, especially refugees. We have been welcoming newcomers since 1975, and we have experience and even considerable expertise in that area. We therefore have 41 years of experience on the South Shore, near Montreal. Our headquarters is in Brossard.
I don't want to go into detail. I only want to give you a timeline of what has happened since the beginning. I think the challenges are the same for all organizations. I am more of a front-line and field outreach worker than a theorist.
We first went through a period of uncertainty, of course, after the announcement that 25,000 Syrian refugees would be brought to Canada. The information concerning the refugees' arrival then caused confusion. After the announcement, the mandate of the ministère de l'Immigration, de la Diversité et de l'Inclusion, or MIDI, was delayed. We waited for the mandate in an atmosphere of uncertainty and concern, but we received a request from the municipality of Longueuil to implement the planned systems. The mayor of Longueuil, Caroline St-Hilaire, met with all the city's government institutions, namely, health and education representatives, including the Maison internationale de la Rive-Sud.
After that period, decisions were made too quickly for us. This negatively affected our preparations, despite our experience. The uncertainty also affected the welcome process, systems, and location. We were told the refugees needed to be picked up from barracks, hospitals, welcome centres, and hotels. This uncertainty caused some confusion.
The Maison internationale's mandate started 48 hours before the arrival on January 9 of the first family, whom I personally welcomed. I went to pick them up at the airport.
There was also a misunderstanding or poor coordination between the ministry and the Red Cross when preparing the welcome centre, which provides basic services such as registration and the distribution of winter clothing. This took time to sort out, which affected our settlement process.
During the first phase, the welcome process, we picked up the refugees from the welcome centre. During the second phase, the Red Cross transported the refugees to our headquarters in Brossard.
We were responsible for the refugees from January to April. We looked after all the administrative procedures, including housing, the health check in the first 72 hours, entry into the school system, and francization. I must also mention the contribution of volunteers, whom I would like to commend. They worked hard to help us with the settlement process.
By April 24, 2016, we had welcomed 86 people, or 14 families. Based on our mandate, we will have welcomed 130 refugees by December 31, 2016, so we're already 66% of the way there.
Of course, to handle the situation, we followed the Réussir l'intégration program, PRint, provided by Quebec's ministère de l'Immigration, de la Diversité et de l'Inclusion. We also received an additional grant from the ministry.
I want to mention a few difficulties. First, there was a delay in terms of francization, which had psychological effects on the Syrian refugees, such as distress or culture shock. You must bear in mind they arrived in winter, which also had an effect. It would have been more practical and effective to organize the francization of Syrian refugees by adopting a schedule outside the program. This option is always available.
I also want to discuss the privately sponsored Syrian refugees in our region. They are left to their own devices by their sponsors. That's not the case for all of them, but it is the case for most of them. We did not receive information on them that would make it possible for us to become involved. To date, we have welcomed 44 people and seen 13 families. We don't have any numbers or information regarding these families.
We also encountered a major problem, namely, the organization of what we call national solidarity. We don't have the expertise or capacity to manage the stock. Citizens want to help, but nobody has volunteered to organize the national solidarity. This discourages people.