An inclusive welcome for French-speaking Syrian refugees

Canada is preparing to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Of this number, 10,000 are expected to settle in Ontario, including 4,000 by the end of the year. I would like to congratulate our governments on their undeniable leadership in this never-ending crisis, which is claiming more victims every day. On the national, provincial and municipal levels, every effort is being made to prepare for the arrival of those destitute women, men and children.

Yesterday, a coalition of almost 30 Francophone organizations published an appeal for cooperation to facilitate the intake and integration of newcomers who need French-language services and support. The coalition called for the establishment of a seamless process to identify and take charge of French-speaking Syrian refugees. It urged that they be identified in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and continue receiving effective, competent French-language support when they arrive in Ontario.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner supports this approach initiated by Passerelle-I.D.É, a community organization that helps immigrants get settled in their new environment. I would add that it is critical for French-speaking Syrian refugees to be informed, both before their departure and upon their arrival in Canada, not only that there are Francophone host communities but also that French-language programs and services are available to them. My federal counterpart, Graham Fraser, and I made recommendations to this effect in the joint report on immigration that we published in November 2014.

People who flee their country, who cross seas and oceans to start a new life, have suffered through ordeals that are, in many cases, unspeakable. One way to ease the transition to their new society is to show openness and inclusiveness. For the Francophones among them, that could mean welcoming them in their own language. In Ontario, which already has more than 600,000 French-speaking residents, we have the resources and the capacity to do so. The coalition’s initiative clearly shows that Ontario’s Francophone community also has unwavering solidarity and determination.

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