The immigrant issue

Carla Allen
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There were many empty tables at an immigrant reception held at the NSCC Burridge campus.

Attendance at an immigrant reception held at the NSCC Burridge campus this month was considerably less than a similar event held last year.

A small group turned out for the meal and presentations by staff from Immigration Settlement & Integration Services (ISIS), Service Canada and the YReach outreach settlement program.

Some of those involved with the event questioned whether the partial power outage in town, rain, or timing was to blame for the poor attendance, but also suggested another possibility: there are far fewer new immigrants moving to the area and many have left. Those concerned about the issue also say the lack of a locally based newcomer navigator is not helping.

Rural Settlement counsellor Laura Atkinson is now providing services similar to those handled by immigration newcomer navigator Dolores Atwood of Yarmouth (September 2011 to March 2013).

Atkinson visits Yarmouth monthly and is based in Bridgewater.

Prior to Atwood there were full time, Yarmouth-based information navigators Diane Saulnier (2007-2009) and Andrew Pace (October 2009 to January 2011).

The loss of the regional rural development agency affected the work term of navigators after Pace.

Atwood focused on continuing monthly get-togethers with immigrants and says although her position was designated as part-time, she worked full time at her job.

Pace remembers the effort he put in and enjoyment he derived from the position during his term.

“For the newcomers’ club and any kind of event to be successful it required a great deal of networking and continuous contact with people. I did find out very quickly that sending out e-mails only did not work. “Personal contact and being active in the community were always key to the navigator role,” he said.

Brochures that include Pace as a contact person for immigration navigation are still on display at Yarmouth Town Hall.

A page on the Town of Yarmouth website directs people to a non-existent tri-county newcomers network page and lists Dolores Atwood as a contact person.

Dolores’s husband, Chris Atwood, is the executive director for the Community Business Development Corporation in Yarmouth.

He expressed disappointment with the centralization of the newcomer navigator position in Bridgewater.

“It is very difficult for ISIS, or someone who is not from here, who doesn't know our community, our culture or even those that immigrate to our community to organize an event like this. It is sad, knowing that encouraging immigration to rural areas will be paramount to future economic success in our community, but such little emphasis is being put on this issue at the local level.”

John Sollows is the former secretary of the Tri-County Multicultural Association, and former chair of the newcomer navigator’s advisory committee.

He commends Laura Atkinson on the “excellent” work she is doing and says attracting and retaining newcomers is enormously important and that people don’t give it the priority it deserves. 

However, he adds, having an individual dedicated to helping newcomers come and stay, is the ideal situation. 

“The immigration information navigator/newcomer navigator/rural settlement counsellor position has suffered numerous interruptions, thanks mainly to the demise first of the South West Shore Development Agency then of all the regional development agencies.  That was very unhelpful for immigrant services in rural Nova Scotia, and for rural immigrants.  A navigator develops experience and contacts, then the job evaporates,” he said. 

A Welcome Home Strategy released by the province in 2011 aims to double the number of new immigrants arriving each year, to 7,200 by 2020.

Statistic Canada figures released in September show Nova Scotia’s population is decreasing whereas the majority of Canadian provinces increased. Overall the province’s population decreased by 4,272.

Organizations: Immigration Settlement Integration Services, Service Canada, Community Business Development Tri-County Multicultural Association South West Shore Development Agency

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia Canada

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