Forum highlights ways Manitobans can help refugees adjust to life in Canada

Dozens of Winnipeggers came together Monday night to learn how to help refugees adjust to life in Canada.
Dozens of Winnipeggers gathered in Elmwood Monday night to learn more about how they can help newly-landed Syrian refugees adjust to life in Canada. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Dozens of Winnipeggers came together Monday night to learn how to help refugees adjust to life in Canada.

The Elmwood Community Resource Centre hosted a forum aimed at giving Winnipeggers more details about what kind of community support newly-landed immigrants will need in the coming months. Language, employment and trauma services were highlighted as critical resource areas.

A panel discussion took place featuring two workers from settlement agencies in Winnipeg, as well as Rita Chahal from Welcome Place and Concordia MLA Matt Wiebe.

Chahal said her organization has been working with the city, province and federal government to sort out what will happen to refugees when they arrive in Manitoba.

'This is a global crisis'

"We want this initiative to be done quickly, but it should also be done well," she said. "This is a global crisis. There are 60 million refugees, and if you put them all in a country, it would be the fifth largest country in the world."

Chahal said the settlement agencies work to find housing for every refugee who settles in Manitoba.

"We know that housing is a national crisis, it's not just a Winnipeg or a Manitoba crisis," Chahal said, adding Welcome Place is in the process of building a housing inventory for incoming refugees. 

On its own, the organization is typically capable of finding housing for 120 people at a time, Chahal said. However, current projections indicate they could be dealing with close to 300 newcomers a month for the next few months, she added.

"There's no question that there will be a challenge, but there are professionals that are doing this and the public has to trust the system."

Welcome Place is funded at the federal level, but has not yet received any provincial funding to help with the refugee issue, Chahal said.

Wiebe told the crowd that the best way private citizens can help is through contacting the Canadian Red Cross' refugee support centre.

'They have no other option'

The forum also included speakers who are former refugees themselves.

Panelist Warda Ahmed fled Somalia and arrived in Canada 11 years ago. She is now employed as a social worker and helps newcomers settle in downtown Winnipeg.

"Understanding that refugees, in general, they are people in need of our support because of the dire situation in their countries, and it's not something that they do or they choose by option," Ahmed said. "They come here because they have no other option left to them."

Ahmed said the same concerns she had upon arriving in Canada are common to many of the people she now works with. That includes concerns about finances, paying for rent, food and other basic needs, she added.

"We want to make sure we are able to do something on our own, rather than getting on welfare," Ahmed said.

Ahmed said that providing a welcoming sense of community will help refugees maximize their potential to contribute to the local economy.

The province is expected to bring in 2,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Chahal said 75 privately funded refugees willl arrive in Manitoba in December.

With files from CBC's Erin Brohman