Immigration agencies forced to cut budgets amid Syrian surge
Federal government says it is making ‘adjustments’
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
Syrian refugee children are seen at a family welcoming centre run by the Mount Pleasant Family Care Society in Vancouver.