Immigrant programs starving for support

Windsor Star (Ontario)
March 15, 2005 Tuesday
Final Edition

Immigrant programs starving for support

by Monica Wolfson, Windsor Star

Iraqi immigrant Badri Naser, 25, is so committed to learning English
that she would cut back on groceries before giving up her class.

The married mother of a two-year-old daughter gets free bus tickets
to go to school, but she’s in jeopardy of losing the subsidy because
of budget cuts.

Naser spends $50 a week on food for her family, while a month’s worth
of two-way bus tickets costs $47.

Ceasing to go to school isn’t an option, said Manjola Vasil, 26, who
arrived from Albania eight months ago. She needs to speak English in
order to work, she said.

The free bus ticket program offered by the Women’s Enterprise Skills
Training of Windsor Inc. is just one of many local immigrant services
that providers say is underfunded. The $8,000 bus ticket assistance
will be slashed in half in April and disappear in 2006. Rose Anguiano
Hurst, executive director of WEST, said she’ll avoid nixing the
program if the federal government delivers on its budget promise to
boost funding for immigrant services by $398 million over the next
five years.

Free child care is another essential service newcomers rely on to
attend English classes.

Gayane Avagyan, a 32-year-old Armenian immigrant with a two-year-old
son, said she’d have to give up learning English if the New
Canadians’ Centre of Excellence didn’t provide child care while she
studied.

“It would be very difficult, hard for me,” Avagyan said while her
child played in an adjacent room under the watchful eye of child care
workers who speak three languages each.

Child care could cost Avagyan up to $48 per day if the free
babysitting didn’t exist.

The Excellence Centre cares for about 40 children per language
session, which are held three times a day. Children must be at least
18 months old.

“Infant care is what we are asking the government to fund,” said Reza
Shahbazi, executive director of the Excellence Centre. “Some parents
will have a four-year-old and an infant and can’t take the training
because they don’t have anyone to care for the baby.”

Shahbazi said he needs an additional $300,000, but requests for more
money have been ignored.

Most immigrant service providers said they’d use new funding to
eliminate child care waiting lists and expand employment, settlement
and adaptation programs. The Windsor Essex County Family YMCA/New
Canadians’ Center offers training to help immigrants adjust to
Canadian culture.

“Basic settlement, language, employment, these are key to a
successful transition to a community,” said Dan Pelletier, chief
executive officer of the YMCA.

The federal government has pledged to give Ontario the bulk of new
immigration money, confirmed the Ministry of Citizenship and
Immigration. Officials couldn’t say how much cash Windsor would get.

Windsor’s immigrant population has exploded in the past decade as
24,305 newcomers came here between 1991 and 2001, a 126 per cent
increase from the previous decade.

BOTTOM LINE

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, last year Ontario
got $127 million to aid about 133,440 new immigrants. By comparison,
Quebec received $149 million for about 32,489 newcomers. Windsor was
awarded $5.6 million for its 2,418 new immigrants.

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