At the recent Canadian Council for Refugees Refugees Welcome Here: Awareness, Advocacy and Action consultation, the Canadian government made it clear – there is no new money for refugee sponsorship and settlement efforts.
If any money is allocated to new Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship-funded initiatives, it will have to be taken from somewhere else within the system.
This presents a significant challenge to existing settlement service providers, who have made it clear that their hands are tied by insufficient funds. The end result is that some Syrian newcomers are simply not getting the supports – like English as a Second Language (ESL) training – that they need to succeed in their new communities.
Given the additional challenges some of these families are facing in meeting their basic day-to-day needs like putting food on the table, there are justified concerns emerging about their long-term integration prospects. Comparisons have been made to Canada’s Somali community, which has suffered the consequences from insufficient settlement supports.
Fortunately, there are other options.
The generosity and creativity of Canadians in response to the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated what a powerful impact civil society can have on the settlement process. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised and donated for private sponsorships; hundreds of thousands more have been donated to innovative grassroots initiatives like Toronto’s The Clothing Drive and Refugee613.
A first world problem that emerged from the first wave of this civic engagement was logistical – well-meaning Canadians who didn’t understand the settlement system or needs of Syrian refugees occasionally caused more harm than good. The pressure on known sponsorship and settlement agencies to handle the countless calls and offers of donated goods, services and time they received overwhelmed an already extended workforce. Some needs or regions got lots of attention, while others never registered on the civic radar.
With time, though, many of these wrinkes were smoothed out as grassroots groups deepend their understanding of the settlement process, experienced sponsorship organizations like churches and mosques helped new groups learn the ropes and pop-up organizations like The Welcome Project developed memorandums of understanding with government-funded settlement service providers.
So – if there isn’t enough federal money to fund new settlement initatives and the existing capacity of official settlement service providers is unable to meet demand, how can the generosity and entrepreneurial spirit of Canada’s civil society be harnessed to fill these gaps?
Craig Carter-Edwards is a co-founder of Welcome Home TO