A coordinator for refugee settlement in B.C. is criticizing the federal government’s new refugee intake target for next year, which sharply reduces the number of government-assisted refugees.
Chris Friesen, settlement services director of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said the Liberal government’s decision would instead rely heavily on private sponsorship for the bulk of the new arrivals.
The number of government-assisted refugees would drop to 7,500 next year, which Friesen noted would be fewer than the 9,411 admitted in 2015 and far below the 19,190 that have arrived so far in 2016.
“That was a surprise,” Friesen said. “Having a reduced target back to 2015 levels is disappointing.”
The overall 2017 refugee target would drop to 40,000 from 55,800 this year after the extraordinary push to bring in Syrian refugees over the past year.
A greater emphasis on private sponsorship puts more reliance on community organizers, faith groups and others to raise funds and help find housing and employment for incoming refugees, at less cost to the government.
“The need continues to grow but the message that’s coming across by the plan is that the numbers in the target for private sponsors is more than double what the government scheme is,” Friesen said.
“I know that there’s been tremendous interest in private sponsorship, but it does raise questions of the government’s commitment.”
The federal government’s overall target for accepting new immigrants is unchanged at 300,000 after Immigration Minister John McCallum rejected a recommendation to raise it to 450,000.
McCallum indicated there could be further increases over time, but called the current level a “foundation” for future growth.
So far, B.C. has taken in 1,956 government-assisted Syrian refugees in 2016, and at least 700 additional privately sponsored refugees.
More than 40 per cent of the government-assisted Syrian refugees have ended up in Surrey, where 811 had settled as of late July, according to statistics from the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
Almost three-quarters of the incoming government-assisted Syrians have settled in the Lower Mainland, despite efforts to direct more to other parts of the province.
The top destination cities in the Lower Mainland have been Coquitlam (185), Abbotsford (154), Burnaby (122), Vancouver (114), Delta (84) and Langley (79).
The top cities elsewhere in B.C. where government-assisted Syrians have settled are Victoria (123), Nanaimo (72), Duncan (37), Kelowna (29) and Prince George (22).
Friesen said there has been considerable success in placing refugee families in places where they had not tended to settle in the past, such as Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission and Langley.
The settlement patterns have been driven heavily by the scarcity of rental housing that refugees can afford on federal income assistance rates, he said.
“This is not just a Metro Vancouver issue,” Friesen said. “It is increasingly an issue in larger centres in the province.”