Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to address this committee today on the issue of settlement services for Syrian refugees.
Since November 2015, Canada has welcomed more than 50,000 Syrian refugees. As the Auditor General's report highlights, in order to ensure that these newcomers can integrate into their new communities and ultimately succeed in Canada, it is crucial that they have access to the supports they need. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada thanks the Auditor General for his recommendations, which we accept.
The findings of this audit also confirm the results of our own early evaluation and research findings, which overall indicate that Syrians are integrating well and at the same rate as other refugee groups.
As you know, Mr. Chair, through our settlement program, IRCC funds various pre-and post-arrival supports for immigrants and refugees. These services help newcomers to fully participate in the economic, social, civic and cultural life of our country.
Some services are also provided specifically for refugees through the resettlement assistance program, such as meeting the refugee at the airport or port of entry; temporary accommodation; help in finding permanent accommodation; basic household items; and some health supports.
Once refugees and immigrants have arrived, they have access to a number of in-Canada settlement supports that are financed by the department and provided by local service provider organizations. These include language assessments and training; support to build networks in communities, including with other newcomers and community members, public institutions, employers, and community organizations; one-on-one and group mentoring with established immigrants or other Canadians; child and youth leadership and peer support projects; and information, orientation, and help in finding and retaining employment. Other supports, such as child care, transportation assistance, crisis counselling, and provisions for disabilities, are also offered to help newcomers access these various settlement services.
The department is pleased that the Auditor General found that Syrian refugees received a wide variety of these settlement services in their first year in Canada. It's also worth noting that Syrian refugees received settlement services at a higher rate than other refugees who arrived during the same period. Almost 90% of Syrian refugees received needs assessments, and 88% had language assessments. This compares to 80% of non-Syrian refugees who accessed needs assessments, and 78% who accessed language assessments during the same period.
As the committee is aware, the work of the Auditor General resulted in four recommendations for IRCC. These relate to the timely transfer of funding to service providers, service expectations in contribution agreements, the management of language training wait-lists, and updates to our performance measurement strategy. Let me go through these one by one.
First, to support the settlement needs of newcomers outside of Quebec, IRCC is investing approximately $762 million in total in 2018-19. This includes more than $58 million in supplementary funding for the Syrian refugee effort. This represents a 4% increase over 2017-18, and a full 29% increase over the past three years. This includes $25 million for pre-arrival services to ensure that newcomers arrive prepared to settle in their new community, as well as $32 million devoted to service delivery improvement, innovation, and experimentation to continue to find better ways to deliver our services.
To fund the delivery of settlement services across the country outside of Quebec, the department manages more than 700 contribution agreements with more than 500 service provider organizations.
IRCC remains committed to delivering services in a timely manner.
The department will review its practices to see where it can make further improvements to its planning and approval processes, particularly for urgent and unexpected program needs such as the Syrian refugee initiative.
This includes looking at the department's business processes to more effectively manage grants and contributions. The review will also examine the ways we engage and work collaboratively with all stakeholders, as well as provincial and territorial governments, in the delivery of the settlement program.
With respect to the audit's recommendation on language training access, first I wish to note that all refugees have priority access to language services, and this includes an initial assessment.
In 2016-17, IRCC invested more than $27 million to increase language training services for newcomers, including Syrians, at literacy and basic skill levels. Since then, more than 7,000 new language training seats have been added across Canada to meet the needs of Syrian refugees. In addition, more childminding spaces and transportation subsidies have been added to facilitate access to language classes for these clients.
Additionally, to ensure that services kept pace with the arrival of Syrian refugees, service provider organizations that serve a high volume of refugee clients received additional funding to help meet increasing demands.
With respect to outcomes measurement to ensure the integration of Syrian refugees across Canada, IRCC developed a strategy that included a rapid impact evaluation of their early outcomes. As the Auditor General noted, this strategy has not yet been fully implemented, especially with respect to measuring health and education indicators.
IRCC acknowledges that it takes time for all newcomers to integrate in Canada and this is particularly true for refugees, given their unique challenges. In addition to our own efforts to monitor and track the progress of Syrian refugees, research is under way in partnership with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Overall, IRCC is pleased with the progress that the recently arrived Syrian refugees have made to date in their settlement journey. Our evaluation of their early outcomes suggests that this group is already on the right path towards full integration. We look forward to the continuation of such a trend, as we continue to closely monitor their progress and make service delivery and program adjustments as needed.
We expect that Syrian refugees will ultimately succeed in Canada, just as other refugee groups have in the past, needless to say, with the participation of the whole community.
As you know, Mr. Chair, the success of this resettlement initiative was made possible due to the extraordinary support and co-operation of organizations, businesses, governments, and communities, and the compassionate consideration of Canadians. Collectively, they assisted with the arrival of these refugees by helping them get settled and established in their new communities, and in multiple other ways to help them start their integration journey.
The department has taken—and will continue to take—action to ensure that all newcomers, including refugees, are able to access the settlement services they need. But, if we want to ensure these refugees can further integrate and succeed in Canada, continued support from these various players will also be necessary.
My officials and I would be happy to respond to any questions the committee may have.
Thanks very much.