To deal with an aging and dwindling population, New Brunswick is working with some NGOs to help attract and retain refugees in a bid to save the future of the province’s smaller towns.
Working with the Montreal-based Refugee Centre and the Toronto-based Northpine Foundation, the Refugee Relocation Program is piloting an initiative to relocate refugees from metropolitan cities to smaller towns in the Atlantic provinces, beginning in New Brunswick.
According to Bayan Khatib, the impact manager of the Northpine Foundation, resettling refugees in smaller towns reduces barriers to settlement while significantly cutting down on integration time. This, in turn, will help the Atlantic provinces fill labour gaps resulting from youth exodus and aging populations.
“This initiative creates a win-win situation, as many of the Atlantic communities are seeking economic and social development through population growth,” Khatib said during the recent 24th Metropolis Canada Conference held in Vancouver, British Columbia.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, while 106,000 refugees have resettled in Quebec and Ontario since January 2015, only 11,160 have gone towards all four Atlantic provinces during the same period.
And according to a provincial report looking at a population growth strategy for New Brunswick from 2019 to 2024, the province also had one of the smallest and oldest populations in Canada in 2018. The report estimated that deaths in that province will outnumber births by as many as 2,000 by 2027.
A different 2020 Fraser Institute report also found all four Atlantic provinces had the largest share of seniors (as a portion of the population), with Newfoundland and Labrador leading the way at 21.4 per cent, followed by New Brunswick at 21.3 per cent, Nova Scotia at 20.8 per cent, and Prince Edward Island at 19.7 per cent.
Filling job vacancies
All of this means job losses. According to the provincial strategy report mentioned above, from 2018 to 2027, New Brunswick is forecast to have approximately 120,000 job openings, with approximately 13,000 of these requiring workers from outside the province.
“The Refugees Relocation pilot seeks to leverage the advantages of smaller cities in Canada to make the settlement process smoother for refugees. As research shows, smoother integration contributes to refugees’ mental health,” Abdulla Daoud, the executive director of the Refugee Centre, said at the conference.
“Despite the high rates of settlement into cities, these urban areas reinforce many integration and settlement challenges onto refugees that all Canadians currently face. Challenges like the high cost of living, barriers to entry into the housing market, or the high competition for a limited amount of vacant jobs, just to name a few.”
He acknowledged, however, that relocating refugees to smaller communities might have social challenges, as “community members living in non-urban settings might have little to no interaction with refugees or refugee resettlement organizations.”
As part of this pilot initiative, refugees who are willing to relocate to smaller towns will be provided with a package based upon the specific relocation and job allocation in the chosen town.
This initiative would also partially cover the cost of relocation including the tickets for transportation, as well as half of the first month’s rent in the host town.
“The incentive package also includes an educational scholarship along with employment support to beneficiaries either prior to their relocation or upon arrival,” Daoud added.
Applicants would also have access to a mentor, social worker, or orientation manager to support them throughout their integration journeys.
The program will add to already existing initiatives such as the Skills Launch Adult Program launched by the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area and the Newcomer Employment Champions (NEC) program out of Saint John.
Both programs provide employment support to newcomers to these regions, including helping them secure “full-time employment, continuing education, becoming entrepreneurs, or having their first Canadian home,” according to Anna Mae Sy, Skills Launch youth program coordinator at the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area.
Similarly, the NEC “aims to support local employers beyond cultural competency training by giving them the support, resources and practical tools to hire, onboard, and retain newcomers effectively,” Daniel Rito, NEC programming manager at YMCA-Saint John said.
With a background in journalism and migration studies, Zahra Mahdi worked as a freelance correspondent covering immigration and refugee policies from May 2021 to April 2022. Her bylines also appeared in the Toronto Star. She is a Master’s student in Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism.