Nfld. & Labrador

'Information' requires RIAC to suspend services after 3 decades of helping St. John's newcomers

In a note to donors Friday, RIAC executive director says it received information Monday that required it to "temporarily suspend" services until further notice.

In note to donors, director says RIAC received information Monday requiring suspension

Signs in the door of the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council advise people that all of its services are suspended. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council in St. John's has abruptly suspended all of its services, after more than 35 years of being the first stop for refugees and immigrants coming to Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a note to donors Friday, RIAC executive director Jose Rivera said the organization "received information" on Monday "which required us to temporarily suspend our services until further notice."

The note did not specify what the information is that prompted the closure.

Rivera said they're investigating the long-term repercussions, and the "viability of our services is in question." He assured donors they'll receive the investigation's findings when complete, and said RIAC has been "inundated with offers of support."

"Until our official announcement, any information about the cause of our temporary service suspension is speculation," he concluded. 

Sign on the door

A sign hung on the glass door of the RIAC offices on Water Street states its services have been suspended until further notice. The note left only an email address and P.O. box as points of contact.

The charity had been holding regular public events and programming, such as its human library event in early October, with its Facebook page still active and posting as of Monday.

While it's unclear what motivated the closure, although the organization, which relies on donations, has a history of funding problems and has narrowly avoided closure in the past.

However, Rivera said he wouldn't call it a shutdown. 

He told CBC News on Friday morning that RIAC is in a process of "realignment," and would provide further details once the blueprint for the future of the group is clear.  

In 2016, a last-minute donation helped keep its office doors open as the RIAC faced eviction. Shortly after, the organization temporarily moved from Water Street altogether in a bid to save money. 

A similar plea for funds to keep operating was issued in 2015.

In a note to donors Friday, RIAC executive director Jose Rivera said the organization 'received information' Monday that required them to suspend its services. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

RIAC became a registered charity in January 2003, 20 years after its inception. Since 1983, according to the organization's website, it has helped hundreds of newcomers prepare legal cases, find work, find housing and lay roots in the province.

In May, Radio RIAC won an Atlantic Journalism Award for its first year of broadcasting. That had been a dream of Rivera's, to air a radio program dedicated to the diverse voices of new Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Rivera himself came to Newfoundland as a refugee from Colombia in 2002. On top of co-founding the RIAC, he has been the head of the organization for 15 years, and celebrated that accomplishment in August 2019.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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