With hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war-ravaged Syria, several municipal mayors say it’s an opportunity to help on a global scale, while also helping to grow shrinking Maritime communities.

Syria’s refugee crisis is top of mind at a symposium in Fredericton, where several mayors and a host of local immigration and multicultural groups are discussing immigration.

“The conversation is an important one to have regardless of the circumstances right now,” says Alex LeBlanc of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council. “How do we grow in New Brunswick, our communities and our economy?”

Immigrants make up about 22 per cent of the Canadian population, but that number is only about 4 per cent in New Brunswick.

The mayor of Blacks Harbour says immigrants begin their Canadian experience in her community of just under 1,000, and then usually move to bigger towns or cities.

“Our biggest challenge is retention,” says Terry James. “It seems a newcomer often comes to the larger cities and rural New Brunswick remains challenged.”

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc says giving permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections before they become official citizens could help in retention.

“The best way to give them a stake in our community is to give them the right to vote,” says LeBlanc.

Eric Megarity, Fredericton’s deputy mayor, says when it comes to Syria, there’s an eagerness to welcome refugees to New Brunswick.

“They have to go somewhere. They have to be looked after, so why can’t we? And I’m sure we will welcome some of those people to our communities,” he says.

Paul Carline of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches says Canada is the only country that has a private sponsorship program and that his organization hopes to sponsor 50 Syrian families.

“I think we’ll reach it. We have about 30 in process and one arrival next week in Fredericton,” says Carline.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Nick Moore