PEI

P.E.I. immigrant services association happy to see more help for newcomers

2021 was another slow year for immigration to P.E.I. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COVID-19 still creating challenges for P.E.I. newcomers

Former IRSA P.E.I. executive director Craig Mackie says groups like the Vietnamese Association and Indian associations on P.E.I. are helping immigrants settle more easily. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

2021 was another slow year for immigration to P.E.I. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Immigrant and Refugee Services Association P.E.I. worked with just over 1,000 new clients this year, but pre-pandemic that number was closer to 2,000. 

And the ongoing pandemic restrictions are making it tougher than usual for the immigrants and refugees who do choose to settle on P.E.I. 

"Many people are arriving here with no network," said Craig Mackie, outgoing executive director of IRSA P.E.I., which changed its name in October from the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada. 

Newcomers to Canada learn how to set up a tent from staff at the Parks Canada Learn-to Camp program at P.E.I. National Park's Cavendish Campground in summer 2021. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"They have to build their own network on Prince Edward Island, and that's hard to do under the current circumstances," he said. 

Bringing people together

Normally, IRSA P.E.I. would hold a lot of group activities to help newcomers get settled, but they haven't been able to hold many due to pandemic restrictions. 

One highlight of 2021, however, was being able to come together for outdoor events, said Mackie. 

"Many of our clients felt isolated, alone, disconnected," he said. 

"We had people gardening, hiking, engaging in activities that helped them learn about the Island and the history and the culture." 

A group of volunteers from P.E.I.'s Somali community recently came together to create a centre that provides support and resources to refugees and newcomers from Somalia. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The growth of ethnocultural groups in the province also helped IRSA's clients in 2021, said Mackie. 

"So we saw groups like VietPEI, the Vietnamese Association, there are two Indian associations, there are several Filipino associations and these really help people," he said. 

"These groups that brought people who spoke the same language and ate the same food and that kind of thing really helped people through 2021." 

'It was just us'

Mackie said other groups on P.E.I. are also helping make life easier for immigrants and refugees, such as the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. and BIPOC-USHR. 

"For many years, it was just us. But now what we have are community partners and other associations, which is making life for newcomers a little bit better." 

The association is also expanding its services in Summerside, adding a youth settlement worker who will help immigrant kids at schools in the city. 

Mackie said they hope to welcome more immigrants to the Island in 2022, including the arrival of Afghan refugees with "a significant number probably coming to P.E.I." 

IRSA P.E.I. also recently welcomed a new executive director, Bernadette Reynolds, replacing Mackie, who was in the job for 12 years.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabelle Gallant is a radio producer and web writer who has worked for CBC in Edmonton and Toronto. She grew up in Halifax and Charlottetown and is happy to be back home on P.E.I.

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