Canadian CEO's $1.5 million helps Syrian refugees 'build a new life'

Jim Estill's donation will help 50 families adjust to life in Canada, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new government welcomes 25,000 Syrian refugees. The plan relies on the generosity of private sponsors and volunteers across the country. 

Chris Helgren/ Reuters
Volunteers in Toronto, Canada sort clothing donated for Syrian refugees on November 24. 25,000 are expected to enter Canada in the next few months, a plan led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new Liberal government.

Jim Estill doesn't want to "sit back 20 years from now and say I did nothing" about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

The chief executive officer of Canadian appliance company Danby will spend $1.5 million Canadian dollars (about $1.1 million US) to sponsor 50 families arriving this winter as part of the Liberal government's plan to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees before spring.

That's about $22,500 (US) for each family, who will settle near Guelph, Ontario, where Danby's headquarters are located. Mr. Estill, who took the helm in June, will cover big-ticket living expenses as well as readjustment services like healthcare, mentorship, and English lessons, as CTV news reported Tuesday.

"I approach it like a business challenge, because what you want is you want people to resettle well," he told CTV of putting together a team of administrators to assist the refugees. "You want them to start a life and get a job and pay taxes and build a new life." 

"All of this stuff is easier when you do it on scale," he said simply.

Charities in Guelph have pitched in to support Estill's project. But across Canada other communities are waiting, sometimes anxiously, to see if that dictum holds true. 

The plan to resettle up to 50,000 refugees by the end of 2016 begins with a push to accommodate the first 10,000 this month, setting off a scramble to vet applicants and find winter housing for everyone. Another 15,000 will arrive before March. In total, 35,000 of the refugees will come from Syria, although usually via another country.

A mid-November poll, just days after the Islamic State (IS) attacks in Paris, showed many Canadians were apprehensive about the scale of migration, or didn't believe Canada should be taking refugees at all. Of the 54 percent who opposed the refugee plan, just over half said they worried there would not be sufficient time for thorough security checks.

In late November, the Canadian government in Ottawa adjusted deadlines, moving them back from the original goal of January 1. 

Similar security concerns in the United States have threatened to scuttle President Obama's plan to let 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

Immigration Minister John McCallum has acknowledged the need to show struggling citizens that the newest Canadians will not "jump to the front of the lineup" for services such as public housing. Temporary housing for refugees will include revamped military barracks, hotels, and old hospitals. 

But many Canadians have stepped up to help Syrians "land and launch properly," in the words of Mr. Ellis.  

Cooperation from citizens and local charities is key to Canada's resettlement policy. Costs for about 40 percent of the first 25,000 refugees, many of whom already have family in Canada, will come from individual and group sponsors.

The government, which will fund the remainder, has pledged to take in some of the most vulnerable refugees, such as those who have experienced abuse or violence. Single men, however, will generally not be accepted. All approved refugees have been officially designated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and will undergo security and medical checks before boarding planes for Canada.

Many Syrians in the first wave of arrivals, expected next week, will be sponsored by private charities and families, who will assist them until either they become self-sufficient or have been in the country one year. While the financial cost is split down the middle between sponsors and the government, sponsors are responsible for the refugees' social acclimation, helping them to connect with the community, find services, and look for jobs. 

Overall, the resettlement program is projected to cost about $900,000,000 US over the next six years.

Trudeau's government has promoted sponsorship through a website and hashtag, #WelcomeRefugees, tying generosity to Canadian values. 

The refugee crisis "compels us to ask: What is our character? What do we live for? What do we revere above all?" Immigration Minister McCallum told leaders at a forum on Monday:

This is a moment to reaffirm our fundamental values as Canadians. To test the depth of our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance ... Despite our many backgrounds and cultures of origin – more than 200 languages spoken, more than 200 ethnic origins – we all have a great deal in common. We call that great deal Canada.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article reported that the refugee resettlement program will cost Canada $900,000. The correct amount is $900,000,000. 

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