Money not getting to community groups that help refugees, NDP MP says

August 8, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

Metro Vancouver is home to nearly 2,000 newly arrived Syrian refugees, but some of the community groups that could be helping them get settled are hamstrung by a lack of government funding, according to Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan.

Some, such as the Burnaby Neighbourhood House and the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, had the small amount of funding they did receive cut several years ago when Ottawa took responsibility for funding immigrant settlement away from the B.C. government.

Representatives of both organizations say they are providing badly needed services to vulnerable refugees, but are forced to either cut programs or do more with less due to lack of funds.

Burnaby Neighbourhood House offers volunteer-led English classes and has about 100 people per week attending, said executive director Antonia Beck. This is crucial, because government-funded English classes have waiting lists of up to a year in some places.

Waits are especially long for English classes that offer child care, which means women are less likely to be able to attend, said Mariam Bouchoutrouch of the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, which focuses on the needs of women and children.
“That means immigrant women, who will likely stay home and look after the children while the husbands are going out and really focusing on getting enough English to get to work … they’re the ones that will be left behind,” she said at a news conference on Friday. “We hear about stories of domestic violence because … they’re isolated at home without language skills. They may not have information about their rights and protections here in Canada.”

Some parents cannot get to English classes because they cannot afford the transit fare both ways for themselves and their children, said Rasha Moursy, a settlement worker with PIRS. Getting to classes becomes especially daunting if there are multiple children and multiple buses involved, she added.

For $30,000 a year, PIRS could provide English classes with child care for about 20 women, Bouchoutrouch said.

Ottawa increased funding to some of the larger immigrant settlement groups in Metro Vancouver in response to the influx of Syrian refugees earlier this year. However, it also cut funding for English classes in B.C. because of a drop in the number of new immigrant arrivals the previous year relative to other provinces. This left the larger settlement agencies, such as Immigrant Services Society of B.C. and Mosaic, with roughly the same amount of money, but many more clients to serve. There are about 1,500 more refugees expected to arrive in the province between September and December.

The provincial government also stepped in with $1 million in funding for refugee settlement, half of which went to five groups: Mosaic in Metro Vancouver, DIVERSEcity in the Fraser Valley, and three other agencies in the Okanagan, Prince George and Victoria.

But smaller groups that have no previous funding arrangement with Ottawa generally cannot apply for refugee settlement money, said Kwan, who is the NDP’s immigration critic.

“That is a waste of resources and capacity, because you have organizations on the ground who have the language capacity, who have people, volunteers, who are able to do this work and they cannot access any government support to even do the coordinating of volunteers to provide for conversational English classes. That, to me, is absolutely idiotic.”

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