In response to the severe refugee crisis emanating from Syria, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training announced the creation of the $1M Refugee Readiness Fund. $500K of this fund is dedicated to funding five community Refugee Response Teams: Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Thompson-Okanagan and Cariboo to proactively plan for the settlement of refugees in their communities.
The Vancouver Island Refugee Response Team (VIRRT) is led by the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS), and it includes representatives from all immigrant settlement organizations on Vancouver Island, as well as representatives from organizations in the following sectors: education, health services, housing, private refugee sponsoring groups (Anglican Dioceses and ICA), government sponsoring organizations (ICA and CIS) local governments, employment agencies and private sector employers.
The Vancouver Island Refugee Response Team (VIRRT) will identify and prioritize needs and issues within south, central and north Island communities as they welcome Syrian refugees. This action plan has been created by the VIRRT to address: urgent; short-term; and, year-long needs that do not duplicate existing services such as Refugee Assistance Program supports, the Canada-BC Job Grant (especially the Refugee Fund and New Canadian Fund) and language and settlement programs funded by the Federal government. The most important issues identified on Vancouver Island are: housing affordability, access to language instruction, culturally sensitive healthcare services, and meaningful employment. The VIRRT will also feed statistics (housing leads, volunteers, employment leads, donations etc.) to the Refugee Hub operated by ISS of BC.
A Community Development approach was proposed as the methodology for this project, in order to facilitate the collaborative and participatory process required to secure a strategic plan that is inclusive and holistic.
Building on the City of Victoria convocation for coordination of support services for the Syrian refugees conducted in November 2015, and followed by the refugee preparedness call from the ICA in February 2016, a group of 60 stakeholders from different sectors were invited to a third work session to determine the issues that need to be addressed and initiate a work plan. This session was part of the Stage 1 of the VIRRT work plan, and it was conducted on March 23rd, at the First United Metropolitan Church in Victoria.
The proposed agenda for this session included an update from all the settlement agencies on the island, small group work sessions by sector, and the formation of an Executive Committee, to oversee the progress of the VIRRT. Over 30 people from across the island attended this meeting and the group was divided in four smaller work groups to determine the main issues and action items in the sectors of Housing, Education, Healthcare and Employment. Based on this work, the project team gathered additional feedback from all stakeholders and elaborated the present document.
Given the size of the group and the large geographical area to be covered, it was suggested to form an Executive Committee, integrated by self-appointed representatives from all sectors, and members of all the settlement agencies on the island. The Executive Committee will meet once a month to monitor and provide advice and support in the progress of the project. The four Working Groups formed by stakeholders in sectors identified above will report to the Executive Committee before their monthly meeting.
vision of the team
The Vancouver Island RRT will support the planning and coordination efforts of service organizations, local governments and private sector on Vancouver Island, to ensure that all communities across the island that are welcoming refugees, have an increased capacity and capability to help the newcomers effectively settle into their new lives.
- Identify and prioritize refugee service gaps by community based on local experience and expertise in the community as well as available federal data on refugee flow and settlement.
- Identify existing refugee services and supports to ensure non-duplication of provincial and federal settlement and employment services.
- Develop a Community-based Refugee Response Action Plan to address urgent, short-term needs or issues in support of refugees.
- Support the Refugee Readiness Hub (RRH) operated by ISSofBC through the provision of community data and information.
- Oversee a coordinated approach to implementation of the Action Plan.