By Janice Wiggins Project Manager, EMYS Lead Agency
All agencies will have received a memo from MCYS ADM Rachel Kampus dated January 22, 2016 that covers proposed action for Syrian refugees arriving in Ontario. The Health Working Group of the Special Advisory Table on Syrian Resettlement is jointly chaired by Rachel Kampus with MOHLTC ADM Roselle Martino and in combination with many other organizations from the health perspective (such as CMHO, CAMH, CMHA, Ontario College of Family Physicians, Association of Ontario Health Centres among others).
Our involvement from the beginning has been with the expectation that Toronto is one of the prime destinations where both privately-sponsored and government-sponsored Syrian newcomers will arrive and settle.
As part of the five point response outlined by MCYS’ Refugee Settlement Support Plan in January 2016, the Ministry has stated it is “expanding the Youth Outreach Program and Workers to build trusting relationships with refugee youth. East Metro Youth Services will lead an initial expansion of workers to support immediate arrivals.”
To date, there has been no confirmation of exactly how this will roll out. We do know, however, that while there might be some immediate needs, the prediction is that a longer range of 3 to 5 years will require more support for infants, children and youth mental health needs.
One observation in our local conversations with settlement service providers is that family compositions are larger than initially expected—for example, families of 10 or 12 are arriving—the statistics do bear out that many of these newcomers are very young (51% less than 17 years of age), and that the parents themselves are young.
We have been monitoring reports and presentations from groups such as OCASI, COSTI and Lifeline Syria who are emphasizing that currently the lack of housing is one of the biggest challenges facing the incoming Syrians. Here in Toronto we have heard stories that when billeted in hotels, newcomers are looking for activities.
You may have read in the newspapers (February 9) that a solution for some of the school-aged children has been found through TDSB in making it possible for children still in temporary housing to attend school. EMYS Lead Agency is in contact with many different stakeholders throughout the city as a result of the influx of Syrian newcomers—much appreciated too are articles, reference points and connections you have forwarded.