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.