‘Demand is massive’: Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers lays off 65 workers despite influx of immigrants, refugees

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‘Demand is massive’: Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers lays off 65 workers despite influx of immigrants, refugees
WATCH: The Centre for Newcomers in Calgary has been forced to lay off 65 staff members because of uncertainty in government funding. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, this comes at a time when waves of immigrants and refugees continue to come to Calgary – Jul 10, 2023

The Centre for Newcomers (CFN) in Calgary has been forced to lay off 65 staff members due to uncertainty in government funding and the move comes at a time when wave after wave of immigrants and refugees continue to arrive in Calgary.

Federal contracts with settlement organizations were amended to be increased in response to the influx of newcomers to Canada but, as of the end of June, the amendments ended with no word from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) about continued funding.

The funding uncertainty has resulted in hard decisions being made at CFN including dozens of layoffs over the last two weeks.

Kelly Ernst,  CFN chief program officer, says the waves of Afghan and Ukrainian  newcomers have stretched programs. He said fortunately,  CFN was previously able to work with government to ensure they were able to provide the services necessary for resettlement.  However now, with the  contracts not extended, CFN will have to scale back programming.

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Immigrants who were supposed to attend language classes this month at the centre have already been turned away.

Ernst says the cuts are going to harm newcomers as well as people already living in Calgary.

“It means that people are not going to be settled well,” explained Ernst. “It means you’re going to have greater unemployment. You will have greater number of homeless people. You’ll have a greater number of people filling up our shelters.  It has ripple effects in the whole community.”

CFN alone has seen more than 35,000 people in the last fiscal year according to Ernst.

“It starts to explode as you pile up different waves of immigrants and we need to address that.  The first two months alone, the Centre for Newcomers has served well over 5,000 people already. You multiply that out and we are going to exceed what we did last year.”

Employees at Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers reception desk on July 10, 2023. Global News/Derek Brade

As of July, 1,084,599 people from Ukraine have applied to come to Canada of which  784,272  have been approved  and nearly 200,000 have already arrived.

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“That means there’s half a million people that are projected to possibly come to Canada,” Ernst told Global News. “So the flow just from an Ukraine standpoint alone is not slowing down.”

In a statement to Global News, IRCC officials said that newcomers, including refugees, have access to a wide range of IRCC-funded settlement supports and services provided by service provider organizations, noting that in 2023-2024, the Government of Canada plans to invest $1.1 billion to support the settlement needs of newcomers (outside of Quebec).

IRCC said that is an increase of 7.5 per cent over planned investments in the previous year.

“The planned investment for settlement services in Alberta is increasing from approximately $125M in 2022-23 to nearly $133M in 2023-24, an increase of six per cent.” read the statement from IRCC.

CFN said they don’t know where that six per cent increase in funding is headed.

Ernst warned that not providing supports to newcomers can lead to societal problems that impact everyone.

“I don’t think we want to go there. We have enough problems with housing and enough problems with trying to get services to people already,” said Ernst. “So if you cut that back more those problems are just going to get worse and it will really affect the populace.”

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IRCC says federally funded settlement services are often complemented by funding offered by provincial and territorial governments.

When Suman Baskota came to Canada nine years ago, he faced many challenges. He says, thanks to the staff at the Centre for Newcomers, he and his family were able to able to integrate into the community.

“They cultivated hope in me because I was so intimidated and I  was in an entirely new place, so CFN helped me a lot,” Baskota said.

Now he works at CFN as a settlement practitioner helping immigrants and refugees connect with resources – helping them integrate and build a successful life in Canada as quickly as possible

“It is super busy because the demand is massive.  A lot of immigrants are coming every day. It’s not just the international immigrants.  There are so many internal migrants from the rest of Canada  arriving in Calgary so the demand is so high.”

Officials with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society confirmed to Global News that they have not laid off any employees and elected not to comment on the state of its federal funding arrangements.

“This is a developing situation, and we are unable to make factual and conclusive statements on the status of individual contracts at the moment,” said a CCIS spokesperson in an email statement. “Regarding our staffing and programming, we have not made any cutbacks to our staff at this time.”

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