By Matthew Liebenberg
What needs to happen to ensure that communities become welcoming and inclusive places for newcomers?
Answering this question is a key focus of the work done by the Southwest Saskatchewan Immigration Partnership (SSIP), which was established in 2020 as a Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) for the region.
LIPs have been developed across Canada as part of an initiative funded by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to establish community-based partnerships. The intention is to bring together various stakeholders in a coordinated fashion to identify local priorities through appropriate research and planning efforts. The information gathered through this process can be used to create welcoming and inclusive communities.
SSIP Coordinator Deanna Baje said this partnership approach can help to identify potential barriers for newcomers.
“We can then discuss how the SSIP could help towards the solution of that situation,” she mentioned. “We could be a venue or newcomers also, and they could let us know through the immigrant advisory table how else we could support newcomers, based on organization of services.”
She emphasized the SSIP does not deliver direct services to newcomers, but it can identify issues that can be useful to agencies responsible for providing programs and services to new arrivals and immigrants.
“We are more of a partnership with organizations that support the settlement and integration of newcomers in our region,” she explained. “So we would hope to systematize the delivery of services, and we would like to build the capacities of the organizations serving the newcomers. That’s how we see the SSIP. We have organizations that are part of the SSIP through the partnership council and we also have a newcomer committee which we call the immigration advisory table, to give us context to what we are hoping to achieve.”
Various organizations participate in the SSIP partnership council, including several local authorities, organizations from the business, education and health sectors, and community organizations. The federal government is represented by IRCC and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Immigration and Career Training is also a council member.
The SSIP recently carried out a survey to get feedback from newcomers about the capacity gaps that have an impact on the settlement and integration of immigrants in Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan. This survey was done in January 2022 as a follow-up to a similar capacity survey done in 2019.
The original survey was carried out as part of a feasibility study for the creation of the SSIP. A comparison of data from the two surveys will help to guide the work of the SSIP, because it indicates to what extent newcomers consider the area to be a welcoming region for settlement.
Both surveys were based on 17 characteristics of a welcoming community. For comparison purposes, the 2022 survey used the same questions as the original one, but it also added some new questions.
There were 66 responses to the 2022 survey over a period of three weeks. The results indicate that Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan are still considered by newcomers to be welcoming communities.
There were improvements in several areas, for example availability of jobs, support for finding jobs, and post-secondary educational opportunities. However, some respondents indicated they were still experiencing gaps in support related to those areas.
The capacities to create a welcoming community are viewed as adequate, but areas that can still improve are attitudes towards immigration, the availability of rental housing, and the availability of housing for sale.
The 2022 survey results identify several areas that experienced a slight decline in capacities. These areas are educational opportunities for K-12, fostering of social capital in the community (a reference to the ability of people to work together for a common purpose), access to medical services, access to religious services and organizations, access to public spaces and recreational activities, social engagement opportunities with the community as a whole, and social engagement with members of own ethnocultural group.
According to Baje the declines in these areas are most likely related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it more difficult to have communal activities and it also had an impact on the availability of services.
The SSIP will use the survey data to identify capacity issues related to the creation of welcoming communities, and the intention is to carry out a similar survey in 2025.
The SSIP hosted its first in-person community forum for southwest Saskatchewan on Feb. 17 to consult with stakeholders about ways to promote successful newcomer integration and to identify barriers to success. The activities during the day were split into two workshop sessions. The morning session was for newcomer community stakeholders and the afternoon session was for representatives of community organizations that support the settlement of newcomers.
Each workshop was three hours long. The one for newcomer stakeholders had 24 participants and the workshop for community organizations had 39 participants. It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the SSIP was able to host such an in-person event.
“So having the community forum in person in February was really a great event for us, because the partnership council members met each other in person for the first time,” Baje said. “The newcomers also were grateful to be invited, because that was an opportunity for them to share what their experiences are of coming to our region. That was really a good event and hopefully we can continue having those kinds of interactions with our different stakeholders.”
Various barriers to successful newcomer integration were identified by participants in both workshops. The barriers identified by participants in the workshop for newcomer stakeholders included language, transportation, cost of childcare, accreditation of qualifications obtained in country of origin, and the cost of training and accreditation in Canada. Barriers identified by participants in the workshop for community organizations included financial resources, language, lack of family support, racism, government policies, and the immigration process.
The participants in the workshop for newcomers felt successful integration will mean people show independence and confidence during daily activities, they are able to apply their education and training, they will not only spend time with people from their home country, they are active in the community, and they feel a sense of belonging. The participants in the workshop for community organizations felt successful integration will mean people are no longer referred to as newcomers and they are valued as members of the community.
For more information about the SSIP, call 306-778-6262 or visit the partnership’s website at http://www.swskimmigrationpartnership.com