Struck by the plight of the "boat people," the city of Ottawa has announced that it would accept 4,000 Vietnamese refugees this summer.
The decision, announced by Mayor Marian Dewar, immediately increased pressures across Canada for the government to set a higher limit on the number of refugees it is willing to accept.
Last month, the government increased to 8,000 from 6,000 the number of Southeast Asian refugees it would sponsor in 1979. A spokesman for the ministry of External Affairs said today that the government is now considering raising to 25,000 the refugee quota for this year.
Since Dewar's announcement, church groups, service clubs and hundreds of citizens have been flooding telephone lines to Ottawa's city hall with offers of help.
Almost immediately, a local organizing group -- Project 4,000 -- sprang up to handle the offers of help and to answer questions from other Canadian municipalities that want to organize similar projects.
The response has been so great that the government is now being accused of dragging its feet in processing applications and arranging transportation in Southeast Asia.
"Canadians are a lot more willing to accept refugees than the government thought," one of the volunteers working at Project 4,000 said.
As a result, Immigration Minister Ronald Atkey is meeting with officials to develop emergency plans to increase the number of refugees admitted to Canada.
There are about 64,000 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong awaiting resettlement. Thousands more are scattered around the South China Sea. Another 75,000 refugees are in Malaysia, which has refused entry to other "boat people."
Since July 18, more than 15,000 refugees in 80 boats have been towed away by Malaysian authorities. Most of them are believed to have landed on indonesian islands farther south.