As Metro Vancouver gears up for its second round of government sponsored Syrian refugees, ESL providers in the lower mainland are still struggling with long wait lists.
As a result, dozens of Syrians from the first wave have yet to step foot in a classroom.
The province welcomed its first wave of Syrian refugees last November.
Nearly a year later, dozens are still waiting to learn English.
Tahzeem Kassam with DIVERSEcity says the wait list has dwindled down to about 150 and that half are Syrians.
“Almost 60 per cent of that number is for level one. So basically, there is about 44 waiting for level one and about 18 waiting for level two.”
A question of government funding
Kassam says with funding on the decline, some tough decisions will have to be made.
“People are starting to look if we need to reduce our higher level class offering to accommodate the lower level need.”
She says it always comes down to the funds available.
“Our funding envelope for B.C. is on the decline. Certainly two years in a row we’ve had reductions to our settlement funding envelope for the province. We’re expecting to begin negotiations with them for the next fiscal year.”
Since February, DIVERSEcity has increased the number of ESL classes offered from 12 to 14.
With 1,500 Syrian refugees expected by the end of December, she expects wait lists to only get longer.
Some ESL wait lists reaching 1,000 people total
Meanwhile, at MOSAIC, another resource society for immigrants, ESL wait lists are at 1,000 people and it’s moving slow.
Joan Anderson with MOSAIC says Syrian refugees do get priority, but there are other problems.
“Lack of childcare, we just don’t have enough spaces for people who need to put their children in childcare so they can learn English. So therefore, they are stuck at home not able to attend class. The waitlist for that is nine months to a year and even longer.”
Anderson says it comes down to funding, that it costs money and resources to teach English.
In a statement to CKNW, the government says for the 2016-2017 year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will invest more than $600 million to support the settlement needs of newcomers.
The government anticipates a significant portion will go to language training.