More than a decade ago, we made a commitment to support LGBTQ newcomers and refugees in Canada. One of the fastest growing programs at The 519, ‘Settling In’ facilitates networking opportunities, nutritious meals, cultural experiences, settlement counselling, and vital referrals for the hundreds of LGBTQ newcomers who meet weekly at The 519. Currently our settlement team are scheduling well over 1000 visits from settlement clients each year. Our LGBTQ Newcomer Community Services Coordinator, who supports refugee claimants, sees over 500 individuals each year and 80% of the clients we work with are successful in their refugee claims.
Our program works with LGBTQ newcomers over a number of years and creates opportunities for volunteerism and mentorship that help them to integrate as new Canadians. Seventy percent of program participants are Refugee Claimants. They come from over 72 countries and speak more than 50 languages. The remaining thirty percent are Convention Refugees, Permanent Residents and Live-in Caregivers.
Recent changes made to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Act in 2012 has created a rapid application process that means an even greater number of LGBTQ newcomers who have resided in Canada for less than a year did not have enough time to get the support necessary to prepare for their hearings. While preparing for their hearings, they are also potentially experiencing additional challenges, such as emotional, social, and physical health issues. Our work with these communities clearly show that newcomers are facing far more complex issues than in previous years which means we need to expand our programming and do even more to respond to the needs we see everyday.
The realities facing LGBTQ people internationally seem even more urgent at this moment in time. The Canadian government is currently working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan and Lebanon and the Government of Turkey to identify ‘vulnerable’ Syrian refugees for resettlement in Canada. The government also has several thousand applications in processing for Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) and Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) under way, which will continue to be processed as part of this initiative.
LGBTQ identified individuals have been designated as ‘vulnerable’ and will be prioritized in the selection process as the Canadian government moves ahead with its commitment to settling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, 2016. It is impossible to predict how many of those sponsored will identify as LGBTQ through the initial screening process and/or when they arrive for processing in Canada. Currently, The 519 is scaling up its capacity to meet the initial intake needs of LGBTQ Syrian refugees seeking settlement to ensure that they are able to access culturally appropriate and responsive service upon their arrival.
As we set our future program priorities we remain grounded in the principles of social justice for all. We also recognize that our program services must include a better understanding of the experiences of violence, trauma and re-traumatization, isolation and poverty faced by many in our communities as we continue to work to advance LGBTQ human rights in Canada and around the world.
You can support our Newcomer & Refugee Programs by making a donation to The 519 today.