Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is praising the settlement efforts for newcomers to Guelph but admits there are challenges that still need to be addressed by the federal government.
Hussen was in Guelph on Monday, speaking with a number of stakeholders at Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington on Dawson Road.
Hussen also took time to meet with local businessman Jim Estill who has sponsored over 300 refugees, and the minister had lunch at Shawarma G, which is owned and operated by Syrian refugees.
Hussen said he was invited to Guelph by MP Lloyd Longfield to see what was happening at the community level.
“It’s about figuring out what in our immigration policy is working so well here, but also what areas we can improve,” Hussen said, noting Guelph has a great formula in place for newcomers.
“You have very low unemployment here, so a lot of newcomers come to Guelph to get a job because you have economic opportunity here,” he said.
Longfield said some of the challenges the city faces when it comes to settling newcomers is providing mental-health supports.
Longfield said some people coming into Canada have needs that must be addressed.
“There are things around handling stress, which has been a challenge for the service providers,” he said. “So we need to increase our support for people that are facing some challenges that they bring with them from other countries.”
Affordable housing is another issue, Longfield said.
“That’s something we need to work on as a government, not directly with Minister Hussen but for him to see that it’s a challenge,” he said.
“As we continue to expand our immigration and refugee and policies, we need to have communities with the right tools to accept people.”
The executive director of Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington echoed Longfield’s words.
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Sandra Cocco said Guelph has already seen 3,300 clients in the fiscal year and 2,500 are funded through the federal government.
“Without supports for affordable housing, it’s going to continue to be challenging, for not just newcomers but for anyone looking for affordable housing,” she said. “We really do need to see some funding and some initiatives that will help support that whole infrastructure.”
Hussen did not make any announcements during his visit, but Cocco said the application process for five years of federal funding opens on Feb. 18.
She said Guelph residents can also offer up support by donating their time to newcomers.
Immigrant Services runs a number of programs with the help of volunteers, such as one-on-one and group English lessons.
“That’s a great way to meet someone. You also learn about their cultural background, their journey and you help them practise English,” Cocco said.
There is also a family-to-family program where a Guelph family can mentor a family of newcomers.