‘Ethnocultural Communities’ Role in Supporting Newcomers to Winnipeg

Project Researchers

Jill Bucklaschuk
Project Researcher

SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Guelph) and Community-based Researcher

Ray Silvius
Project Lead

Associate Professor at University of Winnipeg

Project Description

Since we have increasingly become aware of the fact that only about one-third of newly arrived immigrants and refugees access settlement services from a government-funded immigrant-serving agency (Lo, et al. 2010; Wilkinson & Bucklaschuk 2014), it is necessary to gain a better understanding of the other formal and informal avenues newly-arrived immigrants and refugees use to access information and supports. An essential element of early settlement is establishing social networks, which can provide such supports while contributing to a sense of belonging within a community and building social capital (Simich et al 2005). Research has found that ethnocultural organizations are often a first point of contact for many newly arrived refugees and immigrants, and the cultural familiarity and kinship connections provide the social capital necessary to assist with accessing housing, services, and the like (Couton 2014; Jurkova 2014). Nonetheless, the degree to which ethnocultural communities can contribute to core settlement needs remains disputed (see Tanasescu and Smart 2010).

This project will focus specifically on the role that ethnocultural organizations play in addressing the needs of resettled refugees in Winnipeg, with particular attention given to the ways in which such organizations include refugee youth. We focus on refugees because of the particular settlement and integration challenges they face when resettling (Lamba 2003). While ethnocultural organizations have neither training in settlement service provision nor adequate funds to provide supports, they can become significant resources for settlement information, social networks, and cultural celebrations for refugees as they navigate their new home.

The scope and scale of services and programs offered by ethnocultural communities to refugees is poorly understood. Presently, little academic or policy-relevant literature exists on the matter, which presents a challenge for community-based organizations (CBOs), service providers, and government funders, as each seeks to better understand and/or support the important work performed by such communities. CBOs and service providers have observed that ethnocultural organizations play a complex and multi-faceted role in settlement and integration processes, and serve many important social, economic, and cultural functions. Importantly, such functions may have an effect on intergenerational mediation within re-settled refugee communities. However, the perception amongst service providers is that this role is often performed as in-kind/voluntary service, and that few opportunities for regularized funding exist for ethnocultural organizations. In addition, these organizations often struggle with aging membership and a lack of volunteers; therefore youth engagement becomes essential to ensuring the long-term viability of these organizations. Despite their vital role, ethnocultural organizations face financial and human resource challenges that may constrict their ability to address the needs of newcomers or leave critical components of refugee wellbeing to be provided by in-kind, voluntary, and non-permanent streams of support (Silvius, 2016).

In Winnipeg, service providers and community-based organizations are keenly aware of the central, and ever increasing, role that ethnocultural organizations play in refugee youth engagement. For example, this summer, three service providers and ethnocultural organizations collaborated to launch the Summer Youth Engagement Program, the purpose of which was to provide refugee youth from age 6-18 with full-time culturally appropriate activities and programs for the span of two months. It was a novel program whereby, for the first time, ethnocultural organizations received funding from IRCC for summer youth programs. This event served as the kernel of our collective investigation into the role of ethnocultural organizations in such service provision and youth engagement.

The intention of the proposed project is to assess the economic, social, and cultural roles played by ethnocultural communities and organizations in supporting the settlement and integration of newcomers in Winnipeg, with a particular emphasis on how such roles contribute to the wellbeing and social inclusion of refugee youth. It will underscore the important and often recognized contributions made by ethnocultural organizations in the landscape of immigrant and refugee settlement service supports. Youth are critical to the long-term viability of ethnocultural organizations, and their inclusion is essential to promoting intergenerational dialogue and understanding of cultural practices. Nonetheless, the role of youth in ethnocultural organizations and what such organizations do to engage young people remain poorly understood.

Our proposed research will begin with a community workshop, entitled ‘Ethnocultural Communities’ Role in Supporting Newcomers to Winnipeg’, which will be held at the University of Winnipeg on September 9, 2017 and sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg/Immigration Partnership Winnipeg (IPW). Representatives of Winnipeg-based ethnocultural communities will be attending and providing feedback on questions pertaining to their involvement in providing settlement services to newcomers while also discussing the challenges they face in their operations. It will be a foundational event, in which ethnocultural communities in Winnipeg are systematically approached for such purposes, and provide a much-needed survey of their activities and an orientation for future research.

Project Findings

The primary finding in this project is that most provincial budgets remained static between 2012 and 2017. However, the number of newcomers admitted to Canada continued to rise. The exception is Ontario, which has provided some additional funding through a new program. Meanwhile, Alberta has surpassed British Columbia in the number of immigrants, but funding has remained flat or stable. In other words, Alberta underfunds programs for immigrants and refugees. Federal funding for Settlement and Resettlement was declining for years until 2015-2017, albeit this might be a temporary increase attributable to the influx of Syrian refugees. The sharpest drop in funding has been in British Columbia. This is a result of a major policy change in 2014 wherein the federal government stopped transferring funds to the province to administer federal programs in this sector. It is unclear, however, if the federal government has provided the same level of funding in British Columbia since 2014. The Atlantic Provinces have an unusually high per capita funding ratio. Overall, however, Ontario still provides the most funding for immigration and settlement while receiving the highest amount of federal transfer payments.

This report also identifies provincial programs that are dedicated to assisting immigrants and refugees. The largest amount of money is allocated to settlement and integration services for newcomers. Most provinces also have substantial programs for economic and labour market integration. Language training is usually subsumed within labour market integration programs except in Alberta.

Project Publications