Newcomers make our communities stronger

July 26, 2019

By Voice |

EARLIER this month, I visited Welcome House, a place of refuge for people who are new to B.C.

Welcome House provides housing, child care, a medical clinic, free English classes, and support for people who have experienced trauma, all under one roof.

Many of the families who use the services at Welcome House have never known a home that is welcoming. Many were born in refugee camps, their families forced to flee because of persecution or violent conflict. Because of this, many refugees arrive without personal belongings or a plan for settlement.

Through Welcome House, Immigrant Settlement Services BC and its partners provide wrap-around services to help families start a new life and make B.C. their permanent home.

When I arrived at Welcome House, I was greeted by a family that had recently arrived in B.C. from Iran. They had fled Iran because of the religious persecution they experienced and spent 5 years in a refugee camp before coming to Canada. I was moved when one of the sons handed me a bouquet of flowers. He thanked me, and all British Columbians, for welcoming him and his family to the province. I told him that after all he had been through in his young life, I was proud to welcome him to his new home where he and his family can start a new life.

We are facing the largest displacement crisis in history. More than 68 million people around the world are refugees. More than half are under the age of 18. Many have experienced loss and trauma.

While others seek to build walls, our government is bringing down barriers. At a time when other jurisdictions are cutting back support for refugees and newcomers, our government is making different choices.

B.C. is investing up to $6 million per year, over the next three years, to improve settlement and employment supports for newcomers. This funding includes more support for refugees seeking asylum, which was increased from $500,000 to $1.5 million. With $6 million in funding support from the federal government, we are also working to identify sustainable solutions for asylum seekers in need of temporary housing.

Welcome House also provides services to new immigrants. Although each person’s pathway to arrival is different, immigrants generally leave their home country by choice.

Many immigrants arrive in B.C. with valuable education, skills and experience earned outside of Canada that is not always recognized. Our government recently expanded the Career Paths for Skilled Immigrants program, to help skilled newcomers find work that matches their professional experience. This includes helping people get their credentials assessed and providing services like language training.

To build a more inclusive and just society, and to make sure every person is treated with dignity and respect, our government re-established a human rights commission. The former commission was dismantled in 2002. The commissioner will address issues of discrimination and combat widespread patterns of inequality in society.

Refugees and immigrants enrich our province. They are community leaders, public servants, volunteers and entrepreneurs, making B.C.’s communities stronger, more diverse, compassionate and resilient.

Together, we can build a more inclusive province, where everyone has the opportunity to build a better future.

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