Im­mi­gra­tion agen­cies forced to cut bud­gets amid Syr­ian surge

Fed­eral govern­ment says it is mak­ing ‘ad­just­ments’

Vancouver Sun - - WESTCOAST NEWS - PETER O’NEIL poneil@post­media.com Twit­ter: poneilinot­tawa

OTTAWA — 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.

“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 said 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.

A fed­eral of­fi­cial told the so­ci­ety a few weeks later that it would re­ceive a $23,325 sup­ple­ment, which off­set the six per cent cut.

But the so­ci­ety is also ex­pect­ing a re­duc­tion in fund­ing from the United Way, which pro­vided $185,000 this year, due to a shift in the char­ity’s ap­proach to refugee re­set­tle­ment as­sis­tance.

Bon­ner said she’s asked Ottawa to fill any void if United Way fund­ing does de­cline. But so far she hasn’t got any in­di­ca­tion that will hap­pen.

The Mount Pleas­ant so­ci­ety’s pro­gram, like the five oth­ers in the Lower Main­land, fo­cuses on refugee chil­dren up to age six. So­cial work­ers pro­vide ini­tial early child­hood education, and help the kids and their care­givers tap into re­sources, in­clud­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­selling when nec­es­sary.

The Sun at­tempted to de­ter­mine how the other Lower Main­land part­ners were do­ing, but a co-or­di­na­tor for all six Early Years Refugee Pro­grams de­clined to talk about fund­ing.

Im­mi­grant Ser­vices So­ci­ety of B.C., the main provider of im­mi­grant and refugee set­tle­ment ser­vices in the prov­ince, was hit with a seven per cent fund­ing cut in 2015-16, and a fur­ther eight to nine per cent cut in the com­ing fis­cal year.

While the or­ga­ni­za­tion has re­ceived some sup­ple­men­tal fund­ing, it isn’t enough, ac­cord­ing to the so­ci­ety.

“Fam­i­lies are com­ing in droves and we don’ t have the fi­nances to fund the pro­gram. GINI BON­NER EX­EC­U­TIVE DI­REC­TOR, MOUNT PLEAS­ANT FAM­ILY CEN­TRE SO­CI­ETY

NICK PROCAYLO/PNG

Syr­ian refugee chil­dren are seen at a fam­ily wel­com­ing cen­tre run by the Mount Pleas­ant Fam­ily Care So­ci­ety in Van­cou­ver.

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