Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today, Mr. Chairman, and honourable members.
Like the previous speaker, I am here not as an expert on the Yazidi community. As far as I know, in Ottawa, we have received very few, if any Yazidi community members. I'm here as someone representing the thousands of community members across Canada, particularly here in Ottawa, who have mobilized to welcome refugees particularly since the Syrian resettlement project.
Refugee 613 was created in 2015 in direct response to the overwhelming public interest in supporting refugees. The Syrians brought us together, we like to say, but we're here for refugees from all countries. The existing settlement infrastructure designed to serve newcomers was not ready for the overwhelming public interest in sponsoring, donating, and volunteering with the Syrian refugees. There were gaps in communication and information that made it hard for the public to know how they could get involved, get involved in a safe way, and to be connected and understand their role.
This is where we come in as Refugee 613. We don't provide front-line service, but we support the people who do, with information, connection, and mobilization tools. That's everything from newsletters to convening tables; social media; making presentations in schools, in public arenas; helping anyone who wants to support refugees to connect with the resources and the partners to help them do it. We were created by a network in Ottawa of refugee resettlement agencies, school boards, food banks, city hall, and individuals acting in support of refugees.
We believe that welcoming refugees makes a community stronger, and a more informed community is a more welcoming community. We welcome refugees because we know they bring new skills and perspectives and are the citizens of the future, but also because refugee resettlement creates opportunities for Canadians to work together in collective action. Because of the Syrian project, we know that neighbours know each other better, know the city better, know organizations better, and also know more about the rest of the world. In addition to the obvious humanitarian impulse to welcome refugees, we see it as a community-building approach.
The key is to ensure everyone feels at home, including our newest residents. How do you create that with a population like the Yazidis, who have experienced so much trauma? As the previous speaker noted, and others as well, it's a highly vulnerable population. However, we also know that Canada has received very vulnerable populations before, and they have the same challenges, to a different degree. Language, housing, interpretation, social connection are all challenges that refugees, no matter where they come from, are vulnerable to.
We believe it's really important to prioritize letting the community set their agenda in many ways, give them a voice, and listen to them. Obviously, with this population, it's important to invest in mental health support, but I would say mental health investment is important for every category of refugee. To be dislocated from your home against your will is a trauma, no matter what. It's something that we've seen particularly in the Syrian population. We need to invest in creative and flexible mental health support that can get over the cultural stigma of seeking out support. We know that money spent now will protect precious lives in the future.
We also think it's important to understand and accommodate the full diversity of the population. Not everyone will approach integration the same way and have the same challenges, so it's important to avoid investing in cookie-cutter programming that locks clients into a specific pathway.
I was listening to the earlier panel and wanted to underline the importance of investing in developing best practices from settlement professionals on the ground, and community members, and helping them share across the communities where the Yazidis are being settled.
Canadians want to help, and this impulse is the root of social integration. However, we learned very clearly with the Syrian project that volunteer help is not always needed, or it's not always offered in the best way or channelled in the best way. We believe it's important to take advantage of that energy and to train people, and it's extremely important in the case of a sensitive population like the Yazidis.
We believe it's important to invest in programs that give receiving communities the tools and support to develop relationships with the newcomers. Fund volunteer matching programs that train volunteers in trauma care and culturally appropriate behaviour, match them with newcomer families, and support them to nurture healthy relationships. That's how you build belonging and you build a second chance at life.
Another way to do that is to invest in information to help the receiving community better understand the newcomers. We heard an example earlier of a young girl in Calgary feeling pushed between two groups. If you can, do some quiet, well-informed, targeted education for those working with these groups in schools—medical staff, service providers. Don't assume that all settlement staff will understand this group. They won't have worked with them before, and they need education too. It will make their experience of integrating that much easier.
To sum up, I would definitely echo what has been said before in terms of the levels plan and making the Yazidis a category above and beyond current levels. Anyone working with refugees is concerned about the government's levels of government-assisted refugees in the next three years and the reliance on private sponsorship. We work with private sponsors a lot. We have great faith in them. We believe it's a tremendous vehicle and a global innovation, but they're not the only answer to sponsorship and they need more support.
Just last month, I had the good fortune to travel to Europe, attend conferences, and meet with European civil society leaders. Very often, all we hear from Europe is about the xenophobes. It was amazing to be in rooms full of European civil society leaders who are working hard to welcome refugees, and to see how much work they're doing. They are still looking to us in Canada to show global leadership. They are still looking to us to share our best practices, to connect with them, give them ideas, give them moral support, and to show the example that we cannot leave our vulnerable neighbours to suffer.
Now is not the time to slow down or lowball our efforts. I believe that we should continue to commit to supporting the Yazidi community, and other vulnerable communities, as previous speakers have noted, around the world who are also suffering.
I'll stop there.