Metro Vancouver immigration agencies forced to cut budgets amid surge in Syrian arrivals

March 15, 2016

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun

A Vancouver agency that helps often-traumatized refugee children adapt to life in Canada is preparing to cut its staff, in part due to a federal funding squeeze.

The decision by the Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society comes despite the doubling of its workload in recent months with the arrival of many Syrian refugees.

“Families are coming in droves and we don’t have the finances to fund the program,” said society executive-director Gini Bonner. Mount Pleasant is one of six Lower Mainland organizations that have run B.C.’s Early Years Refugee Program since 2008.

She said her employees are in many cases “minding” children from infancy to age six rather than actually providing essential services to ensure they can adapt to life in Canada.

“I’m thrilled as a social service worker that we’re welcoming people, but they’re not getting a really good experience of Canada when they arrive,” she told in an interview.

“I don’t know if it’s better or worse than what was happening” in their lives before landing in Canada.

The funding squeeze is the result of a federal formula that’s used everywhere except Quebec, which enjoys a lucrative special deal struck during the early 1990s unity crisis that resulted in it getting more than triple B.C.’s allocation.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan called on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to deal in next week’s federal budget with its failure to adequately fund settlement services.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” said the MP for Vancouver East. “If the government can’t adapt to address this current situation, then there’s a real problem and it speaks to the lack of planning by the government.”

The society, like most immigrant and refugee settlement organizations in B.C., is facing the reduction thanks to a funding formula that is based on past trends rather than present and future needs.

Since the number of immigrants and refugees to B.C. had declined in the past three years, so has B.C.’s allocation of settlement funds for things like English-language training and early childhood aid, according to Immigration Department spokesman Remi Lariviere.

But he said the federal government is making “adjustments” to help organizations deal with higher refugee volumes.

The society received a notice on Feb. 24 that its federal funding for the fiscal year starting April 1 will be $360,842, down six per cent from the current year, according to Bonner.

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