The Hamilton Spectator - - FINDING HOME -

THE PEACE BRIDGE NEW­COMER CEN­TRE, A unique model for help­ing in­te­grate refugees right at the bor­der, is fight­ing for its life.

Late last sum­mer, the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency an­nounced it was pulling its fed­eral fund­ing from the cen­tre. Iron­i­cally, the an­nounce­ment was made be­fore the num­ber of refugee claimants ar­riv­ing at the Peace Bridge be­gan to ex­plode fol­low­ing the elec­tion of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“It turned us on our head,” said Martha Ma­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fort Erie Mul­ti­cul­tural Cen­tre, which op­er­ates the New­comer Cen­tre.

The cen­tre is the only one at a Canadian land bor­der cross­ing where a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion and CBSA work to­gether on-site to help smooth the en­try of asy­lum seek­ers.

“I think it’s some­thing that is un­der­val­ued, or feels un­der­val­ued,” said Ma­son.

The cen­tre still re­ceives fund­ing from the prov­ince, the United Way and the Re­gion of Ni­a­gara but she ad­mits it will be a chal­lenge to fig­ure out how to sur­vive without the fed­eral fund­ing.

In a fur­ther irony, CBSA “begged us not to leave,” said Rose­mary Legge, pro­gram di­rec­tor at the New­comer Cen­tre. “They re­spect what we do and value what we do.”

Ma­son said the New­comer Cen­tre model should ac­tu­ally be ex­panded to places such as Emer­son, Man. and La­colle, Que., where large numbers of refugee claimants have been flood­ing into Canada at un­guarded bor­der cross­ings.

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