Evidence of meeting #18 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was housing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brian Dyck  National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Majed El Shafie  Founder and President, One Free World International
Leslie Emory  Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Erica Pereira
Aslam Daud  Chairman, Humanity First
Khim Tan  Senior Program Manager, Immigrant Service Program, Options Community Services
Jessica Ferne  Director of Programs, International Development and Relief Foundation

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

May I ask a question?

Noon

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Sure.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. El Shafie, I'd like to clarify. You presented the Minister of Immigration with a plan to bring 400 Yazidi girls to Canada, and you've had no response on that. Is that correct?

Noon

Rev. Majed El Shafie

I had one meeting with him, briefly. After that I received a call from his chief of staff with some of my lawyers, and after that it's been really silent. We didn't get anything.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

What would that plan do? Do you have 400 girls identified through your organization to bring to Canada?

Noon

Rev. Majed El Shafie

That's correct.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Have you not had a response from the Minister of Immigration on how to bring those girls to Canada?

Noon

Rev. Majed El Shafie

We tried to communicate with him in different ways, including other ministers in the cabinet.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Are these girls at risk of sexual slavery or have they come out of sexual slavery?

Noon

Rev. Majed El Shafie

They are sex slaves, and we rescued them.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

And the Minister of Immigration has not responded to your report. Is that correct?

Noon

Rev. Majed El Shafie

No. We received a call from his chief of staff, and after that, the chief of staff did not follow up.

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

When was this?

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you. Unfortunately, the time is up.

I'm sorry, we will have to suspend. I would like to thank all of the panellists for their tremendous insights on this important area of study.

Thank you.

We'll now suspend for a few minutes.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

I'd like to call the meeting to order.

Our second panel today consists of Mr. Aslam Daud, chairman of Humanity First; Ms. Khim Tan, who's here by video, and is the senior program manager, immigrant services program, at Options Community Services in Vancouver, British Columbia; and Ms. Jessica Fern, director of programs at the International Development and Relief Foundation.

We will begin with Mr. Daud, for seven minutes, please.

12:10 p.m.

Dr. Aslam Daud Chairman, Humanity First

Good afternoon.

I'll begin with a bit of an introduction to Humanity First, and then I'll go to what we have been doing and address some of the specific questions that are the mandate of this committee.

Humanity First is a humanitarian relief organization registered in 46 countries across six continents that has been working on development projects and responding to disasters to provide humanitarian relief since 1995. Humanity First also has a consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which is ECOSOC. We are also a sponsorship agreement holder with the Government of Canada.

Humanity First is in the forefront of privately sponsoring refugees and resettling them in Canada. Over 1,000 refugees have been successfully resettled in Canada by Humanity First since 2010. They are now gainfully employed and are positively contributing to the society.

Recently, Humanity First has been engaged in sponsoring Syrian refugees. Over 200 Syrian refugees have been successfully resettled in Canada, and hundreds more will be arriving soon.

Some of the principles of Humanity First for resettling refugees is to provide them safety with dignity, care with compassion, support with respect, accommodation with comfort, employment and training, education with hope.

The first point I would like to address is engagement of Canadian individuals and groups.

Humanity First has taken a lead role in creating synergistic relationships with various groups and the general public interested in helping refugees by engaging them in a very simplified and practical step-by-step approach for the sponsorship and resettlement process. Humanity First has taken a leading role to bring together constituent groups, individuals, co-sponsors interested in sponsoring refugees, volunteers wishing to engage in the resettlement process, donors, supporters, and religious organizations, to assist with the refugee resettlement. We have engaged Canadian individuals and groups to become part of one of the following three groups, donors, volunteers, or sponsors, or all of the three groups.

We are working with over 60 groups, each consisting of 10 to 15 individuals who got together to form a co-sponsor group, which means we are engaging about 500 to 600 volunteers who are provided training. These groups consist of doctors, lawyers, neighbours, work colleagues, students, families, ladies, alumni and sports friends. The only thing that was common in all groups was that every member of each of the groups had a passion to help refugees.

We have a very systematic and advanced training and orientation method that we provide to all of our partner groups. We have a well-established organizational structure and a cookie-cutter template that we give to our volunteers and co-sponsor groups for the sponsorship and resettlement work.

The second point is on integration challenges.

While it is quite normal and expected that newly arrived refugees will face certain challenges during their early days in Canada, we were quite prepared for it and were able to address those challenges very efficiently. One of the specific challenges that we faced and addressed was proximity to family in Canada. Humanity First is one of the very few private sponsorship organizations that actually went to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries to select Syrian refugees. After the initial selections, we started getting spin-off referrals and our pool of applicants grew considerably. Unlike many other sponsorship agreement holders, over 98% of our sponsored cases did not have any family link in Canada. Due to this fact, we had to put in more resources and much more funding was needed for the resettlement work.

With reference to employment and the job market, finding jobs for Syrian refugees was a mixed experience for us. Syrian refugees who were technically skilled or unskilled labourers were the fastest to find employment compared with more educated refugees and professionals. In our experience, there were some refugees who got a job within the first week of arrival, while there are others who have not found a job even after six months. Some of the newly arrived Syrian refugees were able to find work. Actually, most of the Syrian refugees found work within the first two months of their arrival, while others found a job within four to six months. There were only a few who could not find a job and needed language training or other skill upgrades.

With reference to affordable housing, Humanity First did not face any challenges in finding suitable accommodation for Syrian refugees thanks to the generosity of our co-sponsor groups, who were willing and ready to afford rental accommodation at market rate. Our model included temporary accommodation as guests at the houses of our donors and supporters for the first few days to a maximum of two weeks, and then a move to the refugees' own rental apartments that were fully furnished by Humanity First and our co-sponsor groups.

With reference to the education of children, we did not encounter any challenges with the education of children. All Syrian refugees were successfully and immediately admitted to schools or colleges.

With reference to the English language, this was a challenge for most Syrian refugees whom we sponsored. We have encouraged them to join full-time or part-time ESL courses, and as a result, they have been quick to learn to a satisfactory level to communicate in English. As a backup, we continue to engage Arabic translators as and when needed.

With reference to medical needs, there was only a handful of individuals who had special medical needs because of their permanent disabilities or physical health and sickness. These were addressed through the IFH, the interim federal health program, provincial health coverage, and the generosity of our partner physicians, dentists, and pharmacists.

In terms of the resettlement capacity of Humanity First, due to overwhelming interest and response from the public, our capacity is only limited by the quota restrictions that are put in place by the government. We have the capacity to sponsor and resettle many more refugees. If we have more quota and if the government has the capacity to continue to process applications at a fast pace, we can sponsor many, many more refugees.

Point number four is the impact of different refugee sponsorship streams—

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

You have a few seconds, Mr. Daud.

12:15 p.m.

Chairman, Humanity First

Dr. Aslam Daud

Okay.

Initially, privately sponsored refugees had the impression that the government-assisted refugees had an advantage and received more benefits; however, this impression was rectified when they saw the generosity of private sponsorship.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you.

Perhaps you could submit the rest of your remarks and we'll circulate...oh, they're already circulated.

Thank you, Mr. Daud.

12:15 p.m.

Chairman, Humanity First

Dr. Aslam Daud

Thank you.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Ms. Tan, you have seven minutes, please.

12:15 p.m.

Khim Tan Senior Program Manager, Immigrant Service Program, Options Community Services

Thank you for the opportunity to address you on post-arrival Syrian refugee needs.

My name is Khim Tan, and I represent Options Community Services, which is funded by IRCC to provide settlement services to newcomers residing in Surrey and North Delta.

While there are many issues to address, I shall focus my presentation on six issues.

First, there are long wait-lists for formal language classes such as LINC. While IRCC is working on reducing wait-lists, there is an immediate need to offer informal language classes, such as volunteer-led English conversation circles. These classes help newcomers gain literacy skills and community connections. It should be noted that many Syrian refugees are not yet accustomed to structured learning environments, which require regular attendance, being on time, class participation, learning retention skills, etc.

I'm convinced that offering informal language literacy classes to Syrian newcomers meets multiple outcomes. It increases their ability to participate in formal language learning, increases social connections through volunteer involvement, and increases newcomers' awareness of community resources and knowledge of settlement-themed information.

Second, the huge outpouring of support from Canadians has resulted in settlement service providers being inundated with more volunteers and donations than they can handle. Settlement service providers need help to manage volunteer screening, training, and retention before they can leverage the capacity and contributions of volunteers.

I've met university students, retired school teachers and principals, nurses, all of whom are eager to help. We have brainstormed many possibilities, but lack human resources to organize. IRCC needs to acknowledge and fund settlement service providers to harness volunteers' capacity so that they may play a meaningful role in the resettlement of Syrian newcomers.

Third, since more than 50% of Syrian newcomers are under the age of 25, there is a need to offer newcomer youth programming in a timely manner, before isolation and disconnect set in and vulnerability increases. Many of these youth have little or no education or language skills. Obtaining parental consent and youth buy-in is important for these youth to benefit from activities aimed at helping them gain language skills, life skills, friendship with Canadian youth, as well as increased confidence to participate in social, physical, and recreational activities.

Fourth, while partnerships and collaborations are being forged between settlement service providers and regional health care providers in order to meet newcomers' needs, we need IRCC to work closely with provincial ministries to address funding gaps that greatly affect newcomers' ability to access primary medical, dental, and mental health services in a timely manner.

For example, Vancouver Coastal Health operates Bridge Clinic, which provides primary health care services to refugees. Bridge Clinic's recent funding cuts have resulted in newcomers being transferred to Surrey-based New Canadian Clinic and Burnaby-based Global Family Care Clinic, both operated by Fraser Health Authority. Unfortunately, these clinics lack the capacity to take over clients exiting Bridge Clinic as well as to deal with the rapidly increasing number of newcomers residing east of Vancouver.

Fifth, there is a lack of information dissemination on Syrian refugee profiles, i.e., number of family members, number and ages of children, medical conditions, etc., so there's a lack of information dissemination from settlement assistance program providers to settlement program providers. For example, instead of disseminating information on refugees settling in Surrey to settlement program staff, information is being given to moving-ahead programs, which provide wraparound case management support to vulnerable newcomers.

Please note that newly arrived Syrian refugees are mostly wait-listed for these moving-ahead programs. Meanwhile, settlement workers try to be timely in providing newcomers with support and services in spite of the fact that more time is taken to uncover and assess their needs.

Sixth, and this is my last issue, refugees must be provided proper information and facts prior to their arrival in order to help them manage their expectations. At the ground level, settlement workers spend a lot of time helping newcomers minimize the grief and confusion caused by wrong expectations or miscommunication.

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Ms. Tan.

We had a slight technical difficulty for a few seconds when you were presenting; however, we have a copy of your presentation, and as soon as it's translated, we will circulate it to all committee members.

Ms. Ferne, for seven minutes, please.

June 7th, 2016 / 12:20 p.m.

Jessica Ferne Director of Programs, International Development and Relief Foundation

Mr. Chair, and members of the committee, thank you for the kind invitation to speak with you today.

I am the director of programs at IDRF, the International Development and Relief Foundation. As our name suggests, IDRF provides effective humanitarian assistance and long-term development programming for people in great need around the world. For well over 10 years of our 32-year history, IDRF has been working in Lebanon with vulnerable communities. Since the Syrian crisis began, we have focused our efforts in Syria and now also in Turkey, providing relief to refugees and people affected by this conflict. As a proud Canadian-headquartered international NGO, we also support programming here at home, particularly for refugees, newcomers, and people living in poverty. While we are here specifically to discuss Canada's efforts to welcome Syrian refugees here, organizations like IDRF see Canada's work overseas as being fundamentally and inextricably linked to our efforts here to welcome our newest neighbours.

In March of this year, I travelled to visit some of IDRF's projects and partners in Lebanon and Turkey, visiting refugees who are living in informal settlements as well as those based in urban centres. Across all communities, I was struck first and foremost by the intense interconnectedness of mental health, employment, and education. While there, I spoke with educators who told me of the children born into this war who show clear signs of post-traumatic distress. Adults are sometimes differently but also strongly affected. Without adequate and sustained mental health services, we believe that Canada's efforts here in education and employment will be fundamentally undermined at the outset. I know this recommendation to invest in mental health programming has come forward here many times before, but I truly believe it cannot be said often enough.

In Lebanon and Turkey, and indeed elsewhere where we work, we see that schools and employment programs, services with which most refugees interact, can play a key role in offering safe, confidential, and dignified services for the whole family, particularly when educators and staff are trained resources. I am familiar with some of the programs that our school boards are offering, although I am by no means an expert, and would like to see these streamlined in post-secondary programs, job readiness programs, and early childhood education programs, and elsewhere if they are not already. As well, complementary and coordinated initiatives overseas and in Canada would help to bridge people from one context to another. Of course, such programs will only be truly effective if they are funded as sustained services over a period of many years rather than months.

Many refugees choose Canada as their home based precisely on their hope for a better future for themselves and their children which they cannot find in the neighbouring host countries where they currently reside. Their frustration will no doubt carry over if they arrive in Canada only to face similar challenges here. Training and language instruction is most effective when tied to concrete, guaranteed opportunities for dignified employment. IDRF is optimistic that many industries will see a rising demand for Arabic speaking skills. As well, we hope that programs will work with potential employers to create incentives and to expand employer awareness of the jobs they can offer and how they can restructure to support refugee skills development.

No one knows the experience of being a refugee in Canada like refugees themselves. One of IDRF's Canadian programs works closely with six different GTA school boards using a peer-to-peer tutoring model as an instrument for building inclusive school communities and promoting youth leadership. In addition to the skills development and interpersonal supports which such programs obviously provide, peer programs have tremendous potential for both adult and youth refugees to assume community leadership roles in both school and civic space. A well-designed, refugee-led program tailored to refugee needs and priorities could offer benefits in terms of Canadian experience, self-esteem, and general well-being.

In response to resettlement, IDRF has worked in close partnership with our friends at the Afghan Women's Organization, an excellent Toronto and GTA SAH and settlement agency. This model of international and local NGO partnership is one that we implement around the world. It is successful and it is one that we would recommend other similar organizations consider.

We began this partnership in direct response to the high demand on resources of settlement agencies, particularly around the liaison with private sponsorship groups. I am sure that many of you saw in your constituencies, as we did among our donors, that Canadians have been so eager to help that occasionally they have been frustrated at being unable to do more, more quickly. We further found that sponsorship groups were at times overwhelmed and confused by the responsibilities of being a sponsorship group even though they had participated in training programs. We know that these programs exist—we have referred to them ourselves—but information is sometimes stagnant, lecture based, groups still have questions, and there's a high demand on settlement agencies. An improved, dynamic community orientation program with two-way feedback might better prepare Canadians. This is yet another area where we think that peer mentorship is invaluable.

At IDRF, we have linked groups whose families have arrived with those awaiting families. This has reduced both anxiety and workload, and increased networking and skills sharing as Canadians look for ways to give while they wait.

In all cases, small to medium-sized organizations, faith groups, and informal networks, both in person and online, have a key role to play, and I believe they could be better mobilized and resourced to provide oversight and support to groups.

I would like to close with a brief story of an encounter I had in Istanbul in March, which has even greater significance for me today in light of the horrific attack that occurred there early this morning. I was meeting with a local agency that provides Syrian refugee children with remedial education, and when I told them that I was Canadian, one young man said to me, “Canada is a beautiful country. You have been so welcoming to the Syrian people, and we are so very grateful. Many Syrians are happy to come to Canada. Thank you for all that you are doing.”

I was deeply humbled to know that this was the reputation of my country for this man and I'm honoured to share that with you.

I know that at IDRF we see this both as a confirmation of the work that is happening and a call to even greater action. Here and abroad, we will continue to do what we can to surpass these high expectations that Syrian refugees and hopefully all refugees have of Canada.

Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Ms. Ferne.

Mr. Sarai, you have seven minutes, please.