Part of being a Newfoundlander, it seems, is receiving bad news—the feeling of always being on the bad end of misfortune. Whether it’s economic woes, political strife, unfortunate weather and more, it’s something we Newfoundlanders have become increasingly accustomed to.
Another thing Newfoundlanders are accustomed to is having one of the strongest senses of community that you will find around the globe. Whether you’re living in the province, or like me and have set roots elsewhere, Newfoundlanders are always there for one another to ease the burden of this tradition of hardship. This is something that I have learned to value more and more as my time away from home increases. Our sense of community only strengthens with absence, something proven when you bump into another islander here on the mainland and are filled with joy.
Something Newfoundlanders have always taken pride in is our willingness to open the doors of our community and welcome newcomers with open arms. It is one of the most beautiful parts of a very unique culture.
So, I was recently shocked and dismayed learn about the closure of the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) in St. John’s, one of the main organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador dedicated to assisting newcomers to the province. These organizations are few and far between in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For nearly 36 years, RIAC had been one of the main points of contact for immigrants who failed to fall within the borders of other existing mandates and programs provided by the provincial government and other similar organizations. Whether it be English classes, cultural experiences such as cod fishing trips, social events or just general advice, RIAC was at the forefront to help newcomers take part in programs and activities. With the sudden closure of the organization, with a lack of funding being cited as the main reason for the shutdown, many immigrants who now call Newfoundland and Labrador home have been left in the lurch.
Of course, this bad news hit me hard as someone who sees the importance of our immigrant population. The vibrancy and skills they bring to our province continuously shapes our already unique culture to be even more beautiful. There is now a hole in the support network for these remarkable individuals and families in a province with hardly half a million people and a sense of familiarity, of home, can be a challenge to develop. Organizations such as RIAC are vital to creating networks that bring newcomers together and give them the confidence to get out and take part in the culture.
The cold, hard truth is that Newfoundland and Labrador needs immigrants. Our province simply cannot prosper and grow without them. Our demographics are dismal. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest median age and one of the lowest birth rates among the provinces. Rates of external migration of natural-born Newfoundlanders are through the roof. With a net loss of nearly 1,500 people in the first quarter of 2019, we are the only province showing a loss of population.
To be blunt, our province is dying. We have gaping holes in our public services waiting to be filled with highly skilled workers, as anyone who has had to face our healthcare system can attest to. These holes cannot be filled without an influx of trained migrants calling our province home. And this is just the beginning.
I’m not saying we aren’t doing a good job of laying out the welcome mat to potential newcomers. Newfoundland and Labrador has bountiful things to offer. The holes in certain labour sectors has led to ample opportunities for high-paying employment for skilled immigrants.
Memorial University of Newfoundland boasts some of the most affordable tuition fees in Canada for both domestic and international students, providing a thorough, well-respected education to prepare international students for the workforce. And, of course, who could turn down some of the most beautiful scenery and charming people you’ll find not only in Canada but the world. This is just the beginning of what my home province has to offer.
These are all great things but worthless without the base needs being covered. Newcomers need help, whether it’s sharpening their English skills, finding employment, or finding a place to live. They also need a sense of community. Newfoundlanders are eager to welcome folks, but sometimes you need to be with people who you can speak your native language to reminisce about home and help each other flourish. As someone living away from home, I can attest to this importance and I’m sure many others would agree. Newcomers are only human and these basic needs are necessary to take advantage of everything Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer and to help our province grow.
Organizations such as RIAC are a core part of providing these necessities. Sure, job opportunities and cheap tuition are great, but without solidarity and support, they mean nothing. It’s easy to recognize the great benefits that we not only give to immigrants, but immigrants give to us. But this can only happen with our support.
Whether it be a financial donation or a couple of hours of volunteer work a week, helping these organizations is an investment in a great life for newcomers, a great future for Newfoundland and Labrador and a strong community all around. Support for them is vital, so let’s put some of our famous hospitality to work for the better.