Feds to spend $35M to enhance settlement resources for newcomers in rural communities

The federal government plans to spend $35 million over the next three years to boost settlement services for newcomers, who for the most part reside in small towns and rural communities.

On Wednesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser announced the details of the plan, which will see $21 million go towards developing nine new Resettlement Assistance Program chapters in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Another $14 million will be invested to enhance case management services that help vulnerable migrants settle into new communities. This also includes a pilot project to bolster Francophonie case management in the Prairies.

“The new Canadians who choose Canada as their home play a crucial role in our economic success, our diversity, they help build the richness of our communities and our future prosperity particularly as we’re seeking to fill gaps in the labour force and restore the health of our communities after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fraser said.

“Resettlement and settlement services have never been more essential than during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made building a new life in a new country an even more daunting process.”

The Resettlement Assistance Program supports government-assisted refugees and operates in all provinces outside of Quebec.

It provides a one-time start up allowance and monthly income support usually for up to a year. Essential services, including providing temporary accommodation, financial orientation, and life skills training, starts within the first four to six weeks of a refugee’s arrival.

Case management services applies also to government-assisted refugees and other vulnerable immigrants to Canada facing unique barriers to entry. It involves a needs and assets assessment, which leads to service referrals and regular monitoring.

“Case management assists newcomers who need significant intervention and support in building their capacity to independently access and navigate settlement and mainstream services to facilitate integration and encourage independence” reads a government website.

RESETTLING AFGHANS

Fraser took a moment to reflect on the government’s efforts to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban following the withdrawal of Western military forces.

“This has been an enormous lift already with nearly 7,000 here today. But we know the work has just begun,” he said, adding that Ottawa received more than one million requests for assistance.

Fraser called the circumstances “heart-breaking” and an “immense challenge.”

“Not all of these are formal applications,” he said. “I’m sure a significant number are not. This would include people who have submitted applications, would include people who have reached out by email to the IRCC or Global Affairs expressing interest in taking part in Canada’s program. It’s possible that some of these emails represent an individual case that may have been raised more than once.”

While Fraser said officials are working as fast as they can to process applications, the government has anticipated that it could take up to two years to resettle all Afghans seeking a home in Canada. The minister said hundreds are arriving each week.

That’s not fast enough for those with families in the country, like one former interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces who has 13 family members still in Afghanistan. Now in Canada, he fears for their safety and is frustrated with the Canadian government’s lack of support.

“The government of Canada, IRCC, is asking us for biometrics to be done within a month which is impossible, it means they are not serious about it,” he told CTV News. “I don't see any hope, I don't see my family coming here as soon as I wanted.”

As winter grips Afghanistan, essentials like food and fuel have become increasingly hard to secure for many. With the country still in disarray after the Taliban takeover, securing vital documents for Canadian immigration officials can be impossible. The Canadian embassy in Kabul also remains closed, further complication matters for those trying to come to Canada. An estimated 3.5 million people are currently displaced in Afghanistan.

Fraser also noted that Ottawa remains on track to resettle 1.2 million immigrants over three years – a promise made in October 2020.

“We were targeting 401,000 during calendar year 2021 of landed newcomers to Canada. We exceeded that by more than 4,000…we expect that if we remain on the current schedule, we will be able to meet or exceed the goal of 411,000 for this year and 421,000 for the year after,” he said.

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