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Winnipeg newcomers ‘disappointed,’ says city budget needs cash for welcoming immigrants

A group of newcomer advocates is saying its members are unhappy with the City of Winnipeg’s preliminary 2024 to 2027 budget.

The group said the city hasn’t dedicated funding for the Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy adopted in 2020. The policy outlines several key activities that should be implemented, like creating positions dedicated to welcoming immigrants, and having a welcome page translated into multiple languages.

“Since this policy was passed in 2020, we’ve seen some movements, but not a lot,” said Abdikheir Ahmed, a member of the Immigration Matters Canada Coalition. He said without proper funding, commitments to make newcomers feel welcome come up dry.

“Policy without money for implementing is a book on the shelf,” he said.

Vicki Sinclair, executive director of the Manitoba Settlement Services Umbrella Organization said other cities provide excellent models and examples for welcoming newcomers.

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“You only have to look at the newcomer pages on websites belonging to cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax, with the friendly photos, and multilingual newcomer guides, and messages from the mayors, let alone the City of Toronto with its fully staffed newcomer office and an annual official newcomer welcome day,” she said.

Colin Fast, a spokesperson for the office of Mayor Scott Gillingham, said in addition to having a website dedicated to information for newcomers, the city is “creating a dedicated unit in the (Chief Administrative Officer’s) Office to implement the Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy.”

He said, “The budget also includes one new full-time position assigned to the Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy,” adding that “the City has already implemented several recommendations from the strategy using existing staff resources and Council receives regular progress updates.”

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Gillingham has also met with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, Fast said, and “routinely meets with many newcomer groups and service organizations to discuss how to make the city a more welcoming home for new residents.”

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Ahmed said the city “has never committed fully in terms of dollars to this policy,” but acknowledged things are better than they were almost a decade ago. “There was no staff working on anything newcomer related. There was nothing. Now we have some movement because over time we have had some staff working on the policy. But we have had staff working on a shell with no dollars.”

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“If you have staff with no budget, it’s very limited what they can do,” Sinclair said, adding the advocates don’t have a set amount they want to see from the municipal government.

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“We want to see them intentionally say, ‘this is money for welcoming newcomers to Winnipeg,’” she said.

The Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy is vital to invest in, Ahmed said. “Newcomers are citizens of this city. Many of them start new businesses. The ethnic business that you see that, flourishing in this city are started by newcomers with the entrepreneurial and diverse skills from all over the world.”

Reuben Garang, executive director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, said one in four Winnipeggers are newcomers. He added three in four are in the labour force, many were selected for their contributions to the local economy, and 61 per cent have completed post-secondary education.

“We all know that the vast majority of Manitoba and Winnipeg’s population growth comes from international immigration, because we have a high outward migration of Manitobans,” Sinclair said. “Sadly, our largest city is not doing enough to keep us all here.”

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She said Manitoba’s five-year retention rate of immigrants has dropped 11 per cent.

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Director of the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees, Maysoun Darweesh, said “for some reason, I’ve been here for 11 years, (and) still I consider myself a newcomer.” She said with the release of the preliminary budget, she feels like an outcast.

“We are disappointed,” she said. “We want out city to be more hospitable and welcoming.”

Nyamal Jack, a university student in Winnipeg said, “we’ve all had to leave our homes and come to Winnipeg,” adding, “the goal is to create a second home here.”

The city’s preliminary budget will be reviewed at various committee meetings starting early next month before going to city council for approval. Residents can also give feedback online.

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