Nanaimo won’t be receiving any more government-assisted refugees for an indefinite period of time.
Jennifer Fowler, executive director with the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, said there won’t be any other government-assisted refugees directly arriving in Nanaimo because the federal government has cancelled a contract with her organization.
“We no longer have the contract for the government-assisted refugees,” she said. “We won’t get any more unless they are coming in from a different city.”
The contract, called the resettlement assistance program, provided funding assistance to organizations such as the CVIMS to help deal with the influx of incoming refugees. It was created in order to help government-assisted refugees get settled in Canada and provides them with support services including personal finance help, finding temporary and permanent housing and registering for provincial health insurance. Contract holders are responsible for carrying out many of those services provided under the program.
Fowler said she wants Nanaimo to have a resettlement assistance program contract once again and is working on a proposal to make that happen.
“We need, as a community, to be able provide the service that people need,” she said.
Nanaimo received 65 government assisted refugees between November 2015 and July 2018 according to Statistics Canada data, which shows that 55 of those refugees were from Syria.
Fowler said about 90 per cent of the government-assisted refugees who have arrived in Nanaimo are still using services offered by the multicultural society, adding that a majority of them are receiving income assistance.
“We still have a lot coming to attend language classes,” she said. “In order to claim the income assistance, they have to be in language class or looking for employment. A lot of them are doing both.”
The multicultural society, according to Fowler, has been working with a handful of local employers to help some refugees find work. She said refugees want to work and contribute to the community but because their English skills aren’t good enough just yet, they’re not getting jobs.
“Language is still one of the largest barriers,” she said.
Another barrier for many of the government-assisted refugees is finding housing. Fowler said refugees are no longer living in hotels, but with rent sky high and many of them on income assistance, finding housing has been a challenge.
“I can’t even stress it enough. We do not have enough affordable housing,” she said. “There is literally not enough housing.”
Fowler also said it doesn’t help that many of the refugees who arrived were members of larger families. She said while refugees can go into subsidized housing, it is hard for large families because the government simply doesn’t have the required housing for them.
“The government has their own criteria for what is appropriate housing for lager families. I know some families will say ‘we’ll stay in a two-bedroom it will be more affordable’ but the government says it is not appropriate to put a large family into a two-bedroom apartment,” Fowler said.
While no more government-assisted refugees are expected to arrive in Nanaimo, Fowler said it’s her understanding that at least a dozen privately sponsored refugees are expected to arrive in the next few months.