Refugee work continues, Friends of Burma says

FOB will continue to provide refugee settlement services despite being denied funding


Friends of Burma, an all volunteer organization which has been sponsoring refugees to Canada, and new homes in the East Kootenay, for many years will continue to do so, says Shauna Jimenez, despite the fact that provincial funding to help with that very thing has gone to another agency.

As reported in the Townsman/Bulletin last month, the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced funding to enhance the integration of immigrants into B.C. Communities —  part of the Ministry’s Welcoming Communities Program (WCP).

Locally, the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) received $107,000 to help achieve this goal in Cranbrook. Kimberley CBAL received a further $80,000 on top of that to help new immigrants to the area settle and acclimatize.

Friends of Burma applied for this funding and was turned down.

Barb Ryeburn of FOB wrote to the Townsman/Bulletin shortly after the announcement and said, “While our application to provide these services via the Welcoming Communities initiative was not accepted, it does not mean that CBAL will take over the services we provide. We are, however, disappointed that because our application was rejected, we will not be able to expand our services for refugees.”

Jimenez says FOB has approached CBAL with proposals for partnership but has been told ‘no, thank you’.

“EKFOB has successfully sponsoring and settling refugees for the past 18 years, and prior to that, many were involved in the sponsorship of refugees from Cambodia giving many local residents 30 years of experience and expertise in refugee settlement,” she said. “EKFOB has an excellent history of successful sponsorship, settlement and retention of refugees in Kimberley and Cranbrook.  Notably, we also support and mentor sponsorship and settlement groups in Creston, Rossland, Fernie, Nelson and Calgary.”

Jimenez says some local service providers who do have a working relationship with EKFOB have questions and concerns regarding future settlement services for refugees due to the recent announcement.

“As the only current group responsible for sponsoring and settling refugees to our communities, East Kootenay Friends of Burma is extremely disappointed and appalled to be intentionally excluded from the Welcoming Communities Action Plan (WCAP) and the generous funding available to communities for providing exactly the services we have provided for the past 20 years,” Jimenez said.

“Approximately $200,000 will be provided for Welcoming community initiatives in Kimberley and Cranbrook.  We understand and support the approximately $70,000 that will be distributed to a variety of individuals and groups for different welcoming initiatives. The majority of the remaining funds, however will apparently be utilized for settlement services of newcomers to Kimberley and Cranbrook. Some of these funds could have directed to an agency with a long-standing demonstrated ability and commitment to welcoming refugees to our communities, however EKFOB was excluded from this process.  Unfortunately,this generous offer of funding ignited great controversy in this community. The result is that this funding will not go to EKFOB in spite of our long-term and on-going commitment to welcome and settle refugees to our communities.”

When asked about the possibility of partnering with Friends of Burma, Ali Wassing, Executive Director of the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy released this statement.

“CBAL has been working with FOB for years and will continue to do so. In the case of this funding, which was to be used in a broad way for much more than refugee settlement, CBAL followed the Ministry’s guidelines, applied for the funds and went through a process that involved community participation to develop an action plan for immigrant settlement and welcoming communities. FOB’s proposals during this process were unreasonable and in the end not within the guidelines of the Ministry. They were not eligible to receive this funding but we will certainly always work with the people they sponsor. CBAL has the full support of the Ministry. We value and honour the work that FOB volunteers do.”

Jimenez says FOB will continue to do that work, despite what may be duplication of service with the new funding.

“EKFOB volunteers were consulted regarding this most unfortunate funding outcome and decided EKFOB will continue to provide all settlement services to refugees in our communities for the duration of their residency, despite exclusion from WCAP funds.  EKFOB’s continuing non-funded settlement services include and are not limited to; providing assistance with housing and utilities, access to medical services, access to educational services, obtaining language tutors to assist with in-home ESL, organization and facilitation of therapeutic recreational and social activities, attendance at local community events, establishing host family networks, and liaison with all agencies listed here in our current network of holistic support for refugees.  We will continue our social and recreational outreach and integration program for refugees which includes organizing frequent activities such as skiing, cross country skiing, skating, swim lessons, canoeing, kayaking, wind-surfing, picnics, camping trips, attending cultural ethnic-specific events in Calgary and travelling interior BC to promote refugee sponsorship.  We will continue to assist with resumes, job applications, transportation to interviews and first days of employment, annual tax forms, and all applications for special medical or other assistance.  We will continue to educate the public about refugee issues and the benefits of rural resettlement by speaking at social justice forums, settlement, CCR, SAH and research conferences and by offering courses on cultural sensitivity in service provision with refugees and immigrants.

“These services are provided and will continue to be provided by a strong network of volunteers with the expertise, experience and dedication necessary to retain refugees in our rural communities, as demonstrated over the past 20 years.

“We hope this clears up any misunderstandings and look forward to continued contact with service providers as mentioned above and once again commend our many volunteers who dedicate countless hours to the settlement of refugees in our communities, despite being excluded from  this recent funding.“