Community organizations must work to remove the barriers that slow the integration of immigrants and refugees into mainstream society in Waterloo Region, a multicultural consultation at Kitchener Public Library heard on Saturday.
Many immigrant and refugee communities experience social isolation and exclusion from the broader community, said Diana Palmerin Velasco, the community engagement coordinator for Immigration Partnership.
“This kind of event gives an opportunity for different ethno-cultural communities to sit together and exchange experiences relating to social isolation, social exclusion, inclusion and social connectedness,” said Velasco, describing the purpose of the event hosted by Immigration Partnership.
In Immigration Partnership’s 2017 community survey, 59 per cent of immigrant and refugee respondents said they felt isolated in Waterloo Region.
“Many also reported that having friends, family and social connections are some of the things that helped them most in the past year. Social isolation and social exclusion are extremely complex issues.
“It is crucial that we understand how they are being experienced by different communities and explore together potential ways in which we can collectively act to reduce social isolation and increase social connectedness and inclusion across Waterloo Region’s ethno-cultural communities,” said Velasco.
The event had around 40 community leaders from about 15 different communities in attendance.
When ask about the main challenge in the region, Velasco said that Waterloo Region has more than 100 formal and informal ethno-cultural groups that provide invaluable supports to immigrants and refugees every day.
“Some of these groups are very consolidated, as they have existed for a long time and have lots of resources. They are very familiar with the system and supports available in the community. Some other groups have just been created and might be struggling to find and provide the supports specifically needed by their communities.
“I would say the main challenge when bringing different communities together is to find something that is relevant and of value to everyone sitting at the table, while recognizing the specialties experienced by certain groups,” Velasco said.
Raheem Abioye, a community leader, said Waterloo Region is a vibrant community full of unique cultures and strong community ties.
“This kind of event is an opportunity to share and experience diverse cultures with each other that the communities face in the region. It also fosters social inclusion and cultural diversity, which is very important for all of us. As community leaders, we must find out a way to bring solutions and make our region exceptional,” Abioye added.
The event was supported by several local area agencies, including the Volunteer Action Centre and Social Development Centre. The Immigration Partnership is funded by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, the United Way Waterloo Region Communities and the Region of Waterloo.