New Brunswick is expecting to receive 1,500 government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. For the last 10 years, the province has annually resettled an average of 170 government-assisted refugees. This year, the province has taken in over 250 Syrian people. The federal government has informed the province that they will receive between 390 and 780 refugees by the end of February.
The New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC) is a non-government umbrella group mandated to represent the 13 immigrant-serving agencies in the province. Their primary goal is to facilitate training and coordination between the federal government and the agencies.
Alex LeBlanc, executive director of NBMC, said the timeline for the settlement of the 1,500 refugees was extended substantially from February 29 to the end of the year. “Obviously receiving over 1,500 [refugees] is very different from business as usual,” said LeBlanc. “It’s required a lot of co-ordination and creative thinking in terms of how we get people transitioned into housing and get their integration started.”
Refugees approved for government assistance receive income support and have their start-up costs covered. LeBlanc said that while the government support is essential, the settlement process remains a difficult time for these families. “Keep in mind they are starting with nothing,” he said. “It’s not a lavish start.”
There are currently three organizations in N.B. that have resettlement-assistance contracts with the federal government. As a result, government-assisted refugees can be sent only to these organizations – in Moncton, Fredericton and St. John – for resettlement. The government has recently reopened the opportunity for more organizations to apply for resettlement contracts; this means that up to four more communities in the province could become resettlement centres.
While the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition (SRRC) has raised over $100,000 to support the resettlement of three Syrian families in Sackville, it does not work directly with the NBMC. The SRRC is privately sponsoring the three families, and therefore does not fall under the category of government-assisted resettlement and the supervision of the NBMC. The coalition can, however, seek support from the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA), an immigrant-serving agency in Moncton that works closely with the NBMC.
LeBlanc said it is crucial that N.B. residents analyze the accessibility of their communities in order to determine whether the proper support is being provided or not. “As much as possible, we need to look at our communities through the lens of somebody that doesn’t speak our official languages, comes from an entirely different climate, has a different culture and heritage, and has experienced devastation in their life,” said LeBlanc.
Ginette Gautreau, project manager at the NBMC, said she is excited for the economic and cultural benefits of bringing more refugees into N.B. considering the decreasing population. “People will remember this as a historic moment in their province […] as that time we integrated 1,500 Syrian refugees into our province,” she said.