Syrian refugees turn to food bank as federal funds dry up, agencies say
‘The government needs to step up or there’s going to be problems’
Edmonton agencies are urging the federal government to boost support for Syrian refugees who are increasingly turning to the food bank to eat.
"The government needs to step up," said Fahad Shaikh with the Islamic Family Social Services Association. "It's a huge problem. The government's been great in bringing them here. But they've been, in my opinion, not great with helping them resettle."
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Shaikh said 208 Syrian refugees have used the food bank since January, and almost all are government sponsored newcomers.
The problem, he said, is that the lump sum of money provided to new families lasts two to three months, and after that they have to "fend for themselves."
"There's hardly any assistance from the federal government, who at the end of the day is responsible for bringing the Syrian refugees to Edmonton," said Shaikh, who is urging Ottawa to provide financial assistance for the organizations that support Syrian newcomers.
In anticipation of the growing need, IFSAA began partnering with the food bank last year to better serve its clients.
Each Saturday, up to 15 IFSAA volunteers can be found in the food bank warehouse sorting and packing.
Food hampers for Muslim families are specially designed to meet religious needs and food preferences, with a selection that includes rice, legumes and cooking oil.
Shaikh said the meat is supplied by local butchers at good prices and funded by donations from the community. Overall, he said, Edmontonians' support for Syrian refugees has been "amazing."
'It's just not sustainable'
"But it's just not sustainable," said Shaikh. "There's only so much you can ask for from the community. The government needs to step up or there's going to be problems."
Both agencies — which largely rely on the service of volunteers — are also stretched thin by the economic downturn.
Last month, the food bank helped a record number of people, handing out 20,431 hampers. The agency saw need climb by 33 per cent compared to a year earlier.
I don't think that the feds did a lot of planning or gave much thought about who was going to provide services to the Syrian refugees- Marjorie Benz
Executive director Marjorie Bencz said newcomers arrive require a diverse range of services and it often falls on community organizations to provide them.
Making matters worse, she said, elected officials and decision makers "don't meet with us or include us in planning."
"I don't think that the feds did a lot of planning or gave much thought about who was going to provide services to the Syrian refugees," said Bencz.
"We need to have a good plan in place to make sure people are getting the support they need."
Feds promise $27M extra for refugees
"Food banks are a reality in many communities and are accessed by Canadians and others from all walks of life," Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Jessica Séguin said in a written response to CBC News.
She said IRCC works with numerous agencies, identified through a proposal process, to deliver resettlement services, and $27-million in additional money will be available in 2016-17 for Syrian refugees accessing those services.
The government is committed to ensure that newcomers integrate and receive "a fair share of funding, and that immigrants have access to the same level of services," said Séguin.