Photo: Hospitality House, 2007.
NEWCOMERS AND REFUGEES
Contemporary Canada is a country known for its generous immigration policies, supporting family reunification through sponsorships, recruiting newcomer professionals from around the world and providing safe haven for refugees fleeing persecution and war. The numerous expressions of cultural diversity in Winnipeg reflect how our city has opened its arms and heart to newcomer and refugee communities.
Waves of immigration to Canada change each decade and are influenced by global events. The Winnipeg Foundation has supported newcomer services and communities since its founding in 1921. One of the first grants The Foundation ever made was to the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission, an organization that provided health services, food and clothing to Winnipeg’s under-served eastern European immigrant population.
Supports for temporary housing, basic needs and employment and education opportunities are key to the success of the newly arrived in Winnipeg. For decades, The Foundation has established community connections and made grants to organizations that provide these much-needed settlement services.
In 1986, the Citizenship Council of Manitoba, now known as the Immigrant Centre, partnered with Knox United Church and Knox Day Nursery to jointly propose the construction of a new building. The Winnipeg Foundation provided $50,000 for the capital project that included a hostel to accommodate some of the more than 1,000 refugee immigrants that were arriving annually during that decade.
Today, the Immigrant Centre largely supports immigrating newcomers, while Manitoba Interfaith and Immigration Council, or Welcome Place, serves the refugee community. The clients of Welcome Place are often fleeing persecution and civil war.
“I arrived in Canada on a frigid morning in January, with the hope of finally touching peaceful soil after many years of struggle as a refugee. The name ‘Welcome Place’ began to sound in my ears, and I quickly found the meaning of the name: compassion, support, integration, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Jean Pierre Venegas, Welcome Place’s former Senior Manager of Building Services, said in 2016. Almost 90 per cent of Welcome Place staff are former clients, which brings humanity to the daily job and the best example of integration into Canadian lifestyle.
In 2016, immigration to Manitoba increased almost 24 per cent compared to 2015 levels. This increase was largely a result of over 1,200 Syrian refugees that were resettled to Manitoba as part of the National Syrian Refugee Resettlement Initiative. In response to the Syrians’ arrival, The Foundation supported Welcome Place in the fall of 2015, with $150,000 grant over two years, as part of a coordinated effort to receive up to 300 refugees per month, for resettlement services.
The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) is also part of the coordinated resettlement network in Winnipeg. The organization provides secure housing to newcomers. It began in 1991 with 67 suites on the western edge of Winnipeg’s Exchange District, which were created at the time to house a wave of boat people and refugees from Southeast Asia.
IRCOM provides housing and wraparound programs and services for both parents and children of newcomer families. Supports include childcare, asset and capacity building and literacy programming, to name just a few of its services. More than 90 per cent of IRCOM’s participants are refugees; two-thirds are children and youth, and the organization also serves 1,000 non-tenant newcomers through numerous settlement and social service programs.
The high demand for secure and stable housing for newcomers was the impetus for construction of IRCOM 2, a second location at Isabel and Ross Street in Central Winnipeg. The Foundation’s Moffat Family Fund supported the construction and furnishment with $50,000 in 2013 and $50,000 in 2014.
Newcomers and refugees landing in Winnipeg are also part of the strength of the resettlement network, developing organizations and services to help their own communities find their way. For example, in 2017 and 2018, The Foundation supported Sierra Leone Refugee Resettlement with $20,000 to provide culturally appropriate camp for kids and in-house tutoring during the summer months. Projects like these are critical in putting down roots in a new land while honouring a home culture.
The network of immigrant and refugee services in Winnipeg is compassionate, responsive and key to the success of meaningful integration into Canadian society. The work of organizations that welcome newcomers, goes above and beyond basic human kindness to help ensure security of the displaced and care for the traumatized. The Winnipeg Foundation is a long-time supporter of grassroots organizations in response to the pressing needs and emerging issues in the newcomer community.