Canadian ‘newcomers’ find welcome
The Salvation Army assists immigrants and refugees throughout the nation.
By Vivian Gatica –
Statistics Canada reported that more than a million people immigrated to Canada between 2006-2011, making the total foreign-born population nearly 6.8 million and accounting for over 20 percent of the country’s total population.
Upon arrival, these newcomers face obstacles that prevent societal integration, including language, culture and legal barriers, and so The Salvation Army steps in.
Atlantic Refugee and Immigrant Services (ARIS)
Atlantic Refugee and Immigration Services (ARIS) was formed in 2007 by volunteers who saw a need for the program in the Halifax area of Nova Scotia. When funding became an issue, The Salvation Army decided to run the program through its Spryfield Community Church and Family Resource Center.
“We decided to incorporate our work within the programming of The Salvation Army,” said Marie Kettle, ARIS program coordinator. “When [the independent society preceding ARIS] was dissolved, The Salvation Army ARIS project came into being, and I became a full-time employee of The Salvation Army.”
Although the immigrant population of Nova Scotia accounts for only 5 percent of the province population, Kettle said that no legal aid is available to refugees or immigrants in the area.
“So if they can’t afford to pay for the services of a private immigration lawyer, there is nowhere to go for help with immigration documents and processes,” Kettle said. “We work with clients to fill that gap, and also have volunteer lawyers and law students who represent and assist our clients when necessary.”
The program offers assistance with Permanent Resident Card renewals, applications for Canadian citizenship, and other immigration forms, particularly those involved with family reunifications.
“It is a very valuable program. When newcomers arrive in Canada everything is strange and different. If they have family members left behind, it is a great worry and stress and makes it harder for them to settle and integrate,” Kettle said. “It is so rewarding to see families reunited, and to see spouses arrive with a new child that the other parent has not yet even met. Sometimes it is very emotional and stressful but it is definitely worth the effort put in.”
ARIS serves approximately 30 clients per month.
“People are very appreciative and grateful for the help,” Kettle said. “They keep coming back and referring their family members and neighbors to us.”
Toronto Immigrant and Refugee Services
“We have earned the respect not only from the people we help, but also from the other agencies and government programs and associations,” said Angelica Correa, IRS coordinator. “Successfully integrated newcomers will be the economic and social base of Toronto and Canada in general in future decades, and The Salvation Army needs to demonstrate its relevance and value to this group of new Canadians.”
Among the largest metropolitan areas in Canada, Toronto has one of the highest numbers of immigrants with over 2.5 million, which accounts for 46 percent of the city’s population, according to Statistics Canada.
Current services provided through IRS include help with the technical immigration process, employment, housing, community referrals, English as a Second Language (ESL) education and emotional support.
IRS helps around 700 families each year through its two satellite offices, and future plans include expanding to all Salvation Army ministry units.
“Many churches and social services provide specialized ministries and services to newcomers, but our plan involves increasing the ability for all Salvation Army ministries in the Greater Toronto Area to support and welcome newcomers and improve the experience of newcomers coming into contact with our services,” Correa said. “Our hope is that this will lead to deeper levels of engagement, involvement and integration with newcomers among our churches and other services.”
Correa emphasized the importance of outreaching to immigrants in Canada.
“Investing in newcomers and immigrants secures a trustful society. This is not only an investment for future generations free of resentment, but it is also the core of Jesus’ teaching,” she said. “We all are part of the body of Christ called to fulfill the Great Commission. God is sending people from all over the world to us…all the nations are coming to us.”
Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre
The Prairie province of Winnipeg is home to 147,295 immigrants—nearly 21 percent of its total population. In 2011 alone, Statistics Canada reported 45,300 newcomers settled in the area. The Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre (BMFRC)—established in 2012—is geared specifically toward the immigrant population.
“Our purpose is to facilitate change and to foster community,” said Major Corinne Cameron, BMFRC executive director.
Center resources include employment assistance through its Life Employability and Enhancement Program, food distribution, and family and youth oriented programs.
“Our newcomer population comes to Canada with large hopes of a better life. Many have come through significant trauma, and all have left some form of family behind. They proceed through a two-week entry program provided by the province, and then they are on their own,” Cameron said. “Our programming provides for them a sense of community, a support network, and basic requirements for life.”
The program works on a drop-in basis, serving 300 people each week.
“Everyone is so very appreciative of everything we are able to offer, and it is rewarding to journey with individuals as they settle into life in Canada,” Cameron said. “As they move into more established homes, they often come back for visits to let us know how they are doing. One young mom recently said of our ministry, ‘I crossed the road and I found God.’”
According to Cameron, the next step is to expand employment services to help more newcomers find jobs.
“Our long-term vision is to continue to make an impact on the newcomer community, to be known as a safe place for people to come and find a way on their journey of settlement,” Cameron said. “We hope to increase our ability to be a transforming influence in this neighborhood, and through our ministry to help our Salvation Army ministry units discover the wonderful gifts of working with newcomers.”
Montréal Immigrant and Refugee Services
In Montréal, 846,650 residents are immigrants, which is almost 23 percent of the area’s total population. After realizing the need for outreach and seeing the success of IRS in Toronto, The Salvation Army Montréal Citadel Corps launched its own IRS program.
“The Salvation Army has always been very pro-active in helping immigrants and refugees all over the world,” said Louise Fernandez, IRS program coordinator. “This program is intended to offer a more holistic range of services to immigrants and refugees.”
IRS offers its clients guidance in immigration matters, housing, transition to Canadian society, and emotional struggles. People are often referred to the program through the corps’ food bank.
“For many we’re their first family [in Canada],” Fernandez said. “The Salvation Army offers them hope. We welcome people no matter what their age group, race, origin, country, immigration status; we don’t care. We just want to welcome a human being.”